While asparagus is in season, we like to celebrate it in as many ways as possible. We love asparagus grilled or griddled, sneaked into omelettes and turned into soup, poached for salads, sautéed over rice, and as the very definition of primavera for pasta. But this asparagus risotto recipe is one we faithfully return to each spring.
Risotto is a perfect vessel for asparagus, allowing the vegetable to perfume the dish while making room for other lovely spring additions like fava beans and pea shoots — or whatever good is just coming in at your farmers’ market or garden.
Choose firm, fresh, medium-thick asparagus. All asparagus has the same amount of fiber in it, whether the stalks are small or large. Medium-sized stalks don’t get mushy like the extra big ones and are more toothsome than the tightly bound stalks of the smaller ones.
Spring Asparagus Risotto
1 lb fresh asparagus
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 ¼ cups carnaroli rice
1 ½ quarts chicken or vegetable stock (for homemade stock), kept at a low simmer
½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
Boil or steam the asparagus with a large pinch of sea salt for about 6 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and leave to cool.
Melt half the butter in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan and fry the shallots for about 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent.
Meanwhile, cut the cooled asparagus stalks into small pieces, leaving the tips intact. If the end of the asparagus stalk is very tough, peel carefully to expose the tender center and discard the rest. Add the chopped stalks to the shallots and cook together for about 5 minutes, stirring gently to prevent burning.
Add all the rice to the pan and toast, stirring it around, until it is heated through, crackling and shiny.
Pour in a couple of ladlefuls of the asparagus cooking liquid and stir until it has been totally absorbed, then add some more. Add enough to submerge the rice for a moment, but always wait for the rice to absorb the liquid before adding the next batch. When you run out of cooking liquid, begin to add the hot stock.
Continue cooking in this way, gradually adding liquid and stirring, for about 20 minutes, or until the risotto is creamy and the rice is swollen, but still firm in the middle of the grain.
Add the asparagus tips and stir in the Parmesan and parsley. Season to taste. Remove from the heat, cover the pan, and leave the risotto to rest for 4 minutes. Stir again before transferring to a warmed serving platter or individual plates.