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Asparagus & Garden Pea Risotto

July 2, 2018

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I’m not an asparagus person. There’s something unpalatable to me about the stringiness, the taste and the smell that pops up hours – days! – later when you least expect it. But this risotto has me on an asparagus kick and wondering what else lives in Asparagus World that I should be eating. But because I am now the mother of THREE human children (two of whom are under the age of 2 and do not sleep through the night) and I’m typing this out while watching the World Cup quarter finals and eating frozen chocolate chip cookies (it’s hot) (not that it has to be hot to eat them frozen, I always eat them frozen) I’m going to skimp on the newsy opening blurb and just get to the point: this risotto is really good. I’ve made it twice in the last few weeks and am planning to make it again.

It highlights fresh garden peas (the ones you buy still in their shells) and asparagus, two things best bought in spring when they’re harvested. The pea flavor is revved up here by using a super simple broth made from boiling the pea shells rather than a chicken broth to make the risotto. The asparagus flavor is highlighted by pureeing boiled asparagus stalks (which aren’t as nice to eat as the tender tips anyway) and then mixing that “asparagus cream” into the risotto at the end.

If you’re low on time/energy or you have a life and can’t be bothered to shell a kilogram of peas (it takes…a while) or it’s not garden pea season, you can definitely substitute frozen garden peas and forgo the pea broth and use the standard chicken or veggie broth. If you can’t be bothered to puree a bunch of boiled asparagus stems, it’s whatevs. This is risotto: the only real rules are in the method and the rice.

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ASPARAGUS & GARDEN PEA RISOTTO

A fussy but worth it vegetarian risotto that really shows off spring’s bounty. 500 grams/1 lb of risotto rice should be enough for 4 – 6 people. Some of the steps can be skimped on (see: shelling 1 kilogram of peas) but I’d definitely recommend making the asparagus stem puree to add a ton of flavor. 

3 – 4 bunches asparagus

1 kg / 2.2 lbs garden peas (in their shells)

2 shallots, diced

500 grams / 1 lb risotto rice (carnaroli or vialone nano; arborio is far inferior here)

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

1 cup white wine

a big pot of broth (can be homemade pea broth made from the pea shells, see below, or chicken broth)

1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano

about 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes

  • Shell and Boil the Peas: Remove the peas from their shells; save the shells if you want to make pea broth. 1 kg of peas in their shells takes awhile so make it a group activity if you can. Bring a pot of water to boil and boil the peas for 2 minutes then immediatly strain and rinse with cold water. Set aside. NB: garden peas need to boiled separately; don’t try to cook them from raw in the risotto. If you’re using frozen peas, just add them at the very end of cooking the risotto, a minute before you “mantecare” it.
  • Make the Pea Broth (optional): To make pea broth, simply cover all the shells, a chopped carrot and a chopped onion with a dash of salt in a lot of water. Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 mins. Set aside and reheat when ready to make risotto.
  • Make the Crema di Asparagi: Cut off the delicate tips of the asparagus and reserve; you’ll be frying these up as a garnish. Boil the asparagus stalks until very soft, about 20 mins. Remove most of the water then blend with a handheld blender until completely smooth soft creamy. Set aside for later.
  • Make the asparagus garnish: Fry the tips of the asparagus in a little olive oil and salt, covered, until browned and almost crispy, about 20 mins. Turn often. Set aside.
  • Make the risotto:
    • heat the broth in a pot so it’s steaming; you’ll be adding hot broth to the rice. In a large pot over low heat, melt the butter or olive oil and add the diced shallots. Don’t let them brown. After a few minutes, when the shallots are fragrant and no longer opaque, add the rice. With a wooden spoon, stir over medium heat for a few minutes to toast, then add the wine. Cook for a few minutes, stirring, until the smell of alcohol has cooked off.
    • Now start to add the heated broth, one ladleful at a time, cooking over low-medium heat. Wait until one ladleful is mostly absorbed by the rice before adding the next, stirring most of the time so nothing sticks to the bottom and the rice cooks evenly. Grate your parmigiano while you make the risotto.
    • After about 15 – 20 mins, start taste-testing the rice to see how al dente it is. You’ll want to stop adding broth when it’s still a tiny bit undercooked, with a lot of bite left in it.
    • When it’s still just a few minutes underdone, add the crema di asparagi and stir it all in. When rice is al dente, turn off heat. It shouldn’t be liquidy at all. Now quickly add the peas (pre-boiled garden peas or frozen peas), the chopped butter and most of the parmigiano. Mix with only 2 or 3 big stirs then COVER AND LEAVE IT for 5 full minutes. This is called “mantecare” and is the key to a perfect risotto. Set your timer and walk away. Clean up a bit, drink some wine, gently heat your asparagus tips and wait.
    • After five minutes, uncover the risotto – it should be perfect. Scoop into individual bowls and top with the fried asparagus tips that you’ve warmed, the remaining grated parmigiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
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