When we bought the house here in Texas there were the obvious reasons we chose it...a beautiful backyard with a pool, an acre of land with lots of trees, a good school district...an established asparagus garden. Okay, not such an obvious reaon.Why was asparagus a deciding factor for us? It takes 3 years from the time you plant asparagus until you can harvest it. Since a high value to me as a chef is to grow or forage as much as I can for my cooking, this was a total coup! I didn't have to do the planting, fertilizing and waiting required to harvest edible spears and they were ready the very next spring.
They are like my babies. They aren't always the beautiful fat spears you see in produce department this time of year. (On that note, did you know asparagus is seasonally available between April and June in the US? Buying it any other time means you are getting it from Mexico, or worse Peru, and it has been shipped stripping it of any nutritional value) Produce lesson aside, my asparagus babies may vary from pencil thin to the size of my index finger but they all get harvested and I keep them lovingly stored in a glass of water until I have enough to make a meal. Asparagus Risotto is one of our favorite ways to enjoy it but I'm going to indulge you with our other favorite way to make it first!
Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus
Here's how it goes, no real recipe here: Wrap prosciutto around asparagus.Roast it at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Let it cool for a minute and generously grind pepper on it. That's it.
Prosciutto is pricey so to make this less of a budget buster, can ask the deli to give you 4-5 extra thin slices and then cut them into quarters lengthwise. You can also use German Black Forest prosciutto which is more smoky and salty than ProsciuttodiParma and most delis will have. The German is a little less pricey, but still around $15 a pound that's why I only generally use about 2-3 ounces at a time and it certainly isn't an everyday thing. (I do have to fight off the boys - Kyle included - to keep the prosciutto around until I use it)
You will find the salty prosciutto perfectly seasons the asparagus making it a fantastic opener with a glass of white wine or champagne. It's a great seasonal addition to a cocktail party since the roasting makes the prosciutto lean and less messy. It's also a great way to get kids to eat asparagus if they are into pork fat like mine are. (Nutrition note: I fought the pork for awhile, but finally decided to go with nitrate/nitrite -free, naturally raised pork and use it judiciously so I could feel good about it.)
So back to the topic at hand...Risotto. The day I made this, we had been talking through dinner options. Pizza pasta came up in the conversation, then BBQ'd chicken, but the winning submission was Risotto.
You might be thinking - What? Isn't that a weekend thing when you've got more time? Actually, it's all about prepping and stirring then you have a pantry-friendly canvas for a multitude of seasonal meals. The technique is the same. Garlic and onion, boxes of chicken broth and rice and a little white wine are the basics, then add the veggies that you have or are available at the time. Fall - mushrooms and greens. Winter - roasted squash and sage. Summer - grilled zucchini, tomatoes and basil. Spring - Prosciutto and fresh peas or Asparagus and mushroom as I did for this recipe. It is a great way to hang out with a friend while making dinner or getting the kids in on dinner prep since the most time consuming part is stirring the risotto.
For all of you realists who are still thinking "this is a bit much for a weekday," there's a shortcut (unless you have a friend around and you need a good chat then stick to the original.) The majority of the cooking is done in the oven so you have time to take a hot bath and read a book, or for those that are living in reality, time to put in a load of laundry, bathe the kids, do the dishes, pay the bills and read your kids a book. Disclaimer: I haven't actually tried it but Martha Stewart says it works so it must, right??** Look at the bottom of the recipe to find it.
5 sprigs fresh thyme
6-8 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 oz cremini mushrooms (or wild mushrooms if you have them locally), sliced, optional
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup dry white wine (pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc)
2 cups arborio or canaroli (traditional rice used) rice
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends snapped off, cut into 1/2" pieces, tips cut off and reserved
1 cup parmigiana reggiano or grano padano cheese, shredded
zest of 2 lemons (if not using mushrooms)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine thyme and chicken stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn to low.
Skip this step if not using mushrooms. In a 10" or bigger skillet with high sides, saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Generously salt the mushrooms and toss around to make into as close to a single layer as possible. Do not touch them for 5 minutes or until you start smelling roasted mushrooms. Lightly toss them again to turn as many as possible and return to a single layer. Cook for another 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are evenly browned and have lost most of their moisture. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add remaining olive oil and butter to same pan. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add rice and toss to coat with oil and butter. Stir and toss rice until it is lightly browned then add wine. Stir until all wine is absorbed. Add about 2 cups (4 ladles full) of chicken broth to pan and stir until it is almost completely absorbed. Add another cup (2 ladles full) of broth and stir until it's absorbed. Keep adding broth, a cup at a time, and stirring for another 15-20 minutes. (I usually have a book and/or a glass of wine handy for this process. That is of course if I don't have someone standing in the kitchen that is in need of a good chat. If that's the case, we both have a glass of wine, chat away and take turns stirring.) When you try a bit of the rice and it feels the least bit crunchy in the middle you're about 5 minutes away. Add the asparagus (or other raw veg) at this point to make sure it cooks but remains crunchy. After the final addition of broth, add the mushrooms back in along with the shredded cheese and a good grinding of black pepper. Stir well and serve.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use an oven proof dutch oven or very large saucepan. Follow the recipe through the step of adding the wine. After the wine is absorbed, add 6 cups of the stock. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven. Let cook for 20 minutes. Bring remaining broth to a simmer in a small saucepan and keep over low heat while the risotto is cooking in the oven. Add asparagus and cover again for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and add 3/4 cup broth (or more so it has a creamy texture), cheese and mushrooms. Season with black pepper and serve.
Make this lighter by omitting mushrooms and add the zest and juice of 1 lemon at the end of cooking time before adding butter and parm.