With spring, my taste buds start to crave asparagus. What other indicator of spring bounty scream new life, freshness and bloom more than asparagus. My local grocer who has a keen buying eye for seasonal produce,
stacks his asparagus bunches enticingly. They stand like soldiers ready for action - bunches of vivid green, crispy asparagus with their heads fresh and tight, like a perfectly set hairdo, standing tall, proud and ready to impress.
I recall a time in Italy walking along my father's village road when I noticed a local lady bent down amongst the growth on the side of the road. I stood and watched trying to work out what it was she was foraging for. She came
down to greet me and there in her hand was a bunch of freshly picked wild asparagus. She was planning to cook asparagus risotto for her and her husband for lunch. As I walked further I surveyed the growth on the side of the road, trying to spot a lone asparagus soldier, standing tall amongst the weeds, spring flowers and grass. They were hard to spot, but they were there. I didn't dare harvest them - this patch of road whilst common land, was marked for that old lady and her husband.
So for all you Southern Hemisphere readers - enjoy spring; its vivid green and choral sounds. We have survived the dull of winter and nature breathes a sigh of relief. As do I! Hmmm, aspargus risotto tomorrow anyone?
My asparagus risotto for two
one bunch of asparagus
2-3 cups of chicken stock
140g Arborio rice
1/2 onion finely chopped
1/2 glass white wine
grated parmesan cheese
Snap the asparagus at their natural point to remove the woody ends. Cut asparagus stems into 2cm lengths but leave heads intact. Heat some oil and butter in a solid based pan. Add onion and cook gently until translucent.
Add rice and stir (clockwise) until well coated with oil. Add the wine and stir (clockwise) until reduced.
Meanwhile, heat stock and have it at simmer point. Add a ladle of stock to the rice and let it bubble gently until almost all absorbed (but don't let the rice stick).
Add asparagus stems. Keep adding stock a ladle at a time, being careful to always stir in a clockwise direction. Continue adding stock until rice is pearl like. Add asparagus heads and cracked pepper. Add more stock until rice is firm to the bite but luscious on the outside - this should take about 15-20 minutes.
Add another knob of butter and a small handful of parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously (clockwise!) and put the lid on. Wait 2-3 minutes then serve immediately - risotto cannot wait!
The vigorous stirring with the butter and cheese makes the risotto creamy and glossy.
What's the insistence with clockwise stirring you may ask? A few years ago I read Giorgio Locatelli's instructions on the perfect risotto. As a northern Italian second generation chef, I trust him. He insists on always stirring in one direction. I don't know why but this advice has always stayed with me. If I happen to stir the other way, I get all panicked and worried. My logical Angela tells me not to be so ridiculous but the gastronomic me knows it really does taste better if you stir one way. You try!