Sunday, April 24


So I'm a little behind, folks.  My darling younger sister Victoria visited me this week which means we ate our way through the city, but also that I have like nine blog drafts to finish and post.  Plus my brain is taking its time returning to normal.  But instead of working on any of those posts, I'm going to post a recipe for Asparagus and Lemon Risotto because Westside Market (at 110th St. & Broadway) is currently selling asparagus for $1.69/lb.  For all of you asparagus fans, GO.  Good asparagus is hard to find on this side of the country for less than $2.00/lb (it usually sells for around $4.00/lb).  This is a great meal to cook with friends, especially the first time around.  For the record, this recipe makes about 4 servings.  For four people, I recommend doubling the recipe.  That way people get seconds and YOU get leftovers.  (As long as you're willing to brave the microwave.)

Asparagus and Lemon Risotto
from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

1 lb asparagus
1 lemon
3 tbs butter
1 small onion
1 1/2 cups risotto rice (I usually use Arborio)
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring the chicken broth to a boil then take it off the heat.  If the timing isn't working out, cover the pot.
Meanwhile, snap the ends off the asparagus.  (Let the asparagus snap where it may.  It knows which part is tender enough to eat.)  Cut the spears diagonally into 1/4-inch pieces.  (Suck it up and cut the pieces diagonally.  More surface area releases the flavor and all that jazz.  And it looks pretty.)
Once that's done, remove the zest from the lemon.  Remove the zest before cutting the lemon because otherwise it sucks zesting.

stirring, stirring, stirring

This is the part you need to pay attention to.  Whoever is manning the stove is pretty much going to be stirring from here on out.  Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in the pot you intend to make the risotto in.  It should be at least 2 1/2- to 3-quarts, unless you're doubling the recipe.  
While the butter is melting, finely dice the onion.  Add it to the pot and the melted butter and cook it until the onion is soft and translucent.  Should be about 10 minutes.  Make sure the onions don't burn!
After 10 minutes, add the risotto rice.  Cook the rice, stirring now and then, until they are translucent, about 4 minutes.  If they burn, cry.
Stir in the lemon zest and pour in the wine.  Keep stirring until all the wine is absorbed.

Add a cup of the chicken broth and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring occasionally.  When the rice starts to get thick, pour in another 1/2 cup of the broth.  Keep adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, every time the rice thickens.  Don't let the rice dry out!  After 12 minutes, stir in the asparagus.  If you're doubling the recipe, pretty much wing it.  Don't add the asparagus after 12 minutes because then it will be overcooked.  In this case, I usually add the asparagus when there's about 2-3 cups of broth left.
Cook until the rice is tender but still has a firm core, 20 to 30 minutes in all.  When the rice is just about done, stir in half the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of butter, and the parmesan cheese.  Stir vigorously to develop the creamy starch.  (The cheese and the rice react to get the delicious starchiness that is beautifully creamy.)
Add salt and more lemon juice if you want.  Turn off the heat and let the risotto sit uncovered for 2 minutes.  Feast.

lemon and asparagus risotto... jeebus

Thoughts on this recipe:

  • Use a cheese grater to zest the lemon.  Try to make sure it's on that side that has the tiny little holes that are absolutely impossible to clean without shredding a sponge.  To get the little zests free, bang it on the cutting board a couple times.
  • It is fairly obvious when the rice is ready for more chicken broth, but I have a method you should use nonetheless.  If you stir the risotto, scraping the bottom of the pot, and the rice parts without liquid flooding to the bottom, add more broth.
  • Salt and freshly grated black pepper add a whole new level of deliciousness.
  • If one of the friends you've impressed into service is a vegetarian, go ahead and make this with vegetable stock.  It's still amazing.
  • If you only have red wine, it's not totally necessary to go get a bottle of white.  As long as it's dry, you should be alright.  However, it will stain the rice and make the risotto a lot darker but still delicious.
  • The red wine works best in a Winter Squash Risotto because the red wine naturally complements the squash better than the asparagus and lemon.  MAKE THIS.  It's to die for.  Forget the lemon and the asparagus.  Peel half a small butternut squash and remove the seeds and strings from the inner cavity.  Cut into small dice.  Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan and add the squash with a few leaves of sage.  Cook over medium-low heat until the squash is just barely thoroughly cooked (meaning a knife goes through the squash easily).  Take it off the heat and add it to the rice right before adding the parmesan cheese.  I like to overcook the squash because then it mixes into some just-cooked pieces and some mashed bits that mix fairly thoroughly into the risotto.  I realize summer is approaching, but try this next fall or something.  So good.
  • Other risotto variations include everything from mushrooms to scallops to turnips and parsley.  Oh they are all so tasty.

Some dancing music as you work those biceps (STIR, baby, STIR).  Here is Ray Charles and Nat Cole singing "Fever":

Waters, Alice, Patricia Curtan, Kelsie Kerr, and Fritz Steiff. "Asparagus and Lemon Risotto." The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2007. 290-91. Print.

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