Risotto is one of those things that is wonderfully malleable. You can take the basic risotto and add to it whatever ingredients you are seasonal… or are just plain being craved by you at that moment. Master the basic cooking process and you have a great launching pad for an impressive and satisfying meal.
Right now, asparagus is fresh, in season and available locally. You can’t beat asparagus in May. It’s not woody or tough but rather tender and bright. I will even eat it raw, sliced up into a salad. As such, this risotto is a homage to asparagus.
1 cup arborio rice
2 L (approximately) vegetable stock
1 tablespoon butter
Splash of olive oil
2 small shallots
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch of asparagus
1 lemon for the zest and juice of half of it
*splash of cream
*splash of white wine
Just like with the Many Mushroom Risotto of a few months ago, the process is quite simple but does require a slight investment of time and care.
Your prep here is minor: Finely chop the shallot and garlic. Slice the asparagus into ~2 inch pieces. Warm your vegetable stock. For complete ease (and one less pot to wash), I heat the stock in a pitcher in the microwave. Why bother with another pot and ladle!? This is so much simpler.
Melt the tablespoon of butter and splash of olive oil (again, to prevent the butter from burning) in a wide, shallow pot. Start to carmelize and soften the shallots in the butter. As the shallots become slightly translucent, add the garlic. You don’t want to add it too soon and have it burn. Let that wonderful garlic perfume your kitchen.
Add the rice to the pot and stir (with a wooden spoon) to coat the grains. The rice will become a bit translucent, like the shallots. If you have the wine, add a decent splash now (about 1/3 – 1/2 cup). Stir and let the wine be absorbed. Now begin to ladle the stock into the wine. Stock, stir, absorb, repeat. The rice will expand, release its starches (which is what makes a risotto a risotto) and thicken together. Taste test to see if your rice is just a bit before al dente… once it is, add one more splash (or ladleful) of stock to the rice, then the asparagus, cover, stir and let steam for ~3 minutes.
Uncover. Your rice should now be al dente. Your asparagus perfectly crisp but cooked. Taste for salt level and season accordingly (with pepper as well). Grate a slight bit (maybe a few teaspoons) of lemon zest over the risotto. Then cut your lemon in half and squeeze half of the juice into the risotto.
Last, as you started with some fat, my rule is to finish with fat. Add a splash of cream (or small pat of butter) and stir in. This last bit of fat seems to bring everything together and add a beautiful sheen to the rice. Grate some parmesan cheese (~1/3 cup or whatever looks right) over the dish, stir in and dish up.