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Saturday, 8 May 2010

Asparagus Risotto

Because last Monday it was a bank holiday, we decided to take a short break and spend the long week-end in North Devon. We were quite lucky with the weather and drove around visiting many different villages, stopping over for lunch, dinner and of course, cream tea. My food highlights were a mixed grilled seafood platter that comprised bass, scallops and tiger prawns in Bideford; spanking fresh fish & chips in Braunton; and a crab and lemon mayonnaise sandwich followed by cream tea (with proper clotted cream and jam) in Lynmouth. On the way back, we stopped over at a farm shop that had a sign promising 'Freshly Picked Asparagus'. How to resist? Asparagus are one of the great gifts of spring to us, alongside swallows and daffodils. So as soon as we got home, I honoured this superb vegetable by making it the star ingredient of a creamy risotto.


  • 8 or 10 fresh asparagus
  • 1 shallot (or one leek)
  • 1 small potato
  • 200 gr. of risotto rice (I used the Carnaroli variety)
  • 1 litre of chicken stock (or use vegetable stock if you are vegetarian)
  • 1 small glass of white wine
  • 2 handfuls of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 handful of grated mature cheddar cheese
  • 1 glug of extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper 
Wash and dry the asparagus, then slice up the stalks and reserve the heads for later. Peel and dice the potato in small pieces. Finely dice the shallot and fry it at low heat alongside the asparagus stalks and the potato in a deep, large pan. The reason why I add the potato is a little trick I learned from mum; by the time the risotto is cooked it will have nearly completely disintegrated and its starch will contribute to the creaminess of the dish.

When the shallot is translucent, add the rice to the pan, give it a quick stir and 'toast' it (which means let it soak up the juices of the vegetables and cook dry for one minute). Now add the white wine, turn the heat up and let all the alcohol bubble away. Once this has happened, turn the heat down again, add a ladleful of stock to the risotto and stir it very gently, always in the same direction and keeping your wooden spoon closer to the edge of the pan, not the centre. What you are trying to do here is to 'massage' the grains of rice to allow them to soak up the stock and grow larger, without breaking them. Keep on repeating this exercise, feeding the risotto with stock whenever it looks dry and stirring it gently from time to time. Add the asparagus heads towards the end, as they need less time to cook. The rice normally takes 20 - 25 minutes to cook, so add the heads after 15 - 20 minutes it has been cooking.
When the rice is cooked, taste your risotto and season it with salt and pepper. Finally, stir in the cheese and if you want, a knob of butter. The consistency you are after is creamy: therefore not too watery but not too thick, either. Serve it immediately - it's a little bit of spring on your plate. 

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