By Susanne Merrett
Risotto, which is basically rice cooked in a broth, is an easy dish to prepare. The secret to a really good risotto lies in three things: a good, rich stock, the proper rice, and constant stirring.
The three most common types of rice suitable for risotto are carnaroli (the most forgiving to cook with, and it makes the creamiest risotto), vialone nano (a quick cooking risotto rice from the Veneto region of Italy), and arborio (the most widely available). They are all short grain, starchy rices which should never be rinsed before cooking – it's the constant stirring that releases all those starches and produces a creamy risotto.
Most grocery stores carry arborio rice. The Italian Market on Young Street in Halifax carries all three types of rice, if you're up for some risotto adventure.
This Spring Risotto is full of flavour because the stems of the asparagus are pureed into the broth. The addition of lemon and cream takes this simple dish to new culinary heights.
2 pounds asparagus
2 cups chicken stock, preferably home made
2 cups vegetable stock (you can use water or more chicken stock)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 2/3 cups risotto rice
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon, reserved
3/4 cup Parmesan, grated
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Wash and trim the asparagus. The best way to trim the spears is by holding both ends and gently bending them – they will snap at the proper spot. Cut the tips off, and reserve.
Boil the asparagus stems until quite tender, about 8 minutes. Remove the stems from the boiling water, reserving the water, and puree with the chicken and vegetable stocks until smooth. Put the mixture in a saucepan and bring to boil, then maintain at a simmer.
Meanwhile, cook the asparagus tips in the reserved boiling water for one minute. Drain and refresh in ice water.
Heat the olive oil in a large, wide, heavy-bottom pan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened, but not browned. Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium low, stirring the rice to coat each grain with oil. Add the salt and lemon zest, stir to blend, then add a cup of hot stock, stirring continuously.
When the stock is absorbed, add another cup of stock, and continue stirring. Continue on like this for about twenty minutes, until the rice is just slightly al dente. (You may not use all the stock or you may need to add a little more water – each risotto is different.)
Add the asparagus tips, Parmesan, cream, and lemon juice, stirring well to blend. Put a lid on the pan and let the risotto sit for three or four minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve.