Being a foodie, the start of the asparagus season has been on my mind at least every second day since about February when the first bulbs of spring started poking through. Asparagus is the first real big hitter of the year in terms of produce. Lots of goodies come after such as Perthshire strawberries but very little happens before the asparagus comes out to play. In Scotland because it is so chilly most of the time, the season is about 2-3 weeks later than the rest of the UK, stating about now. On your marks, get set go! This year I’m going to try and make the most of the 6-8 week window of yumminess and no doubt I’ll be doing a few asparagus-centric posts soon.
The boyfriend loves a risotto, an instant way to his heart and over the years I’ve had plenty of practice at making this dish. A few years ago I went wine tasting. We had food cooked by a Michelin stared chef to match with the wine and I picked up a few tips to make a better risotto from there. Firstly it needs to be kept loose or “on the wave” as the Italians would describe it. Secondly, when they say serve it al dente, they really mean al dente. Almost crunchy.
The wild leaves I collected were from the riverbank near my flat. Edinburgh has it’s fault but there must be few capital cities in the world where you can find a river bank with lots of forageable goodies just 15 minutes from the centre of town. I used nettles, wild garlic and field sorrel. Just a few leaves each, not to overpower the dish more to give it extra depth of flavour and freshness. If foraging isn’t your thing just double the quantity of parsley. As Heidi of 101 cookbooks said last week, “the sky won’t fall down”.
It gets my hump up when people describe this as a quick tea. It normally takes me about 30-40 minutes from start to finish. I like to think my knife skills are fairly sharppish (geddit? groan) but it still takes me a while to get this all veg chopped up before I start cooking. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with selling risotto as a weekend treat which is exactly what this dish is to me.
Griddled asparagus and wild leaves risotto
4 handfuls of risotto rice, arborio, vialone and carnaroli all work well.
2 large onions finely chopped
4 stalk of celery, finely chopped
4-6 cloves of finely chopped garlic.
12 spears of asparagus, we used a purple variety
8-12 tenderstems of asparagus, chopped into 1-2cm bits
large glass of white wine
pot of chicken stock, about a litre, keep on a rolling boil throughout the cooking process
2 breasts of roast chicken (optional but tasty, we had some leftover)
tub of mascarpone, about 225g
handful of parmesan
few wild salad leaves, e.g. nettle, wild garlic and field sorrel
small handful of coarsely chopped parsley
half a large lemon
olive oil and butter.
Pop the olive oil and butter in a pan and over a low heat add the onions and celery. Let these soften for the best part of 10 minutes
Add the garlic and let the harshness cook out a bit
Do not let the onion et cetra go brown, the idea is that it is sweet and translucent
Turn up the heat a little and add the rice, cook for a minute stirring all the time
Do no let the rice go brown as this will reduce the amount of starch you can get out of it
Once the edges of the rice have gone clear add in the wine
It should sizzle as it hits the pan, keep stirring until 70% or so of the liquid has been absorbed
Add one ladle of the stock into the rice at a time, stirring fairly continuously
If you run out of stock, hot water will be fine
The more elbow work you put into your risotto the more gooey starchy wonderfulness it will release, this will ensure you have a lovely unctuous risotto
After about 8 minutes of the rice cooking pop the larger asparagus stems into the stock pot and cook for 3 minutes or until on the tender side of crunchy
Brush these with olive oil, season and put onto a griddle pan on a very high heat
Cook for a couple of minutes, turning once
Squeeze with lemon juice and put aside if the risotto is not ready yet
When the rice has been on for 12 or so minutes add in the cooked chicken and chopped tenderstem asparagus.
When the risotto is a minute off being ready add the wild leaves, parsley and mascarpone and parmesan
Season to taste
Serve al dente; a good way to think of risotto is that if your granny were to eat it she would complain it wasn’t cooked enough