March is the season for green asparagus! At our farm in Puglia, at this time of year we are all busy picking the asparagus and discussing what we know is coming next – Auntie Lucia’s delicious asparagus risotto where the asparagus is definitely the star!
It is a traditional plant-based Pugliese dish and is easy to make. The asparagus season begins around the end of February and goes through to the end of May, sometimes until the middle of June. Just like the artichokes, asparagus is another great source of nutrients, including fibre, folate and vitamins A, C and K. Our grandmother was always telling us that asparagus has incredible healing powers ‘’ fa bene allo stomaco’’ (it’s good for your stomach!) she would say! Actually it is known to have potential health benefits, including improved digestion and helping to lower blood pressure. A typical starter in Italy – especially in the south, is usually pasta-based, but we have such an abundance of vegetables here that you will find seasonal specialities singing the joy of the vegetable and a risotto or frittata is a perfect way to ensure the vegetable is the star of the plate! Once you have mastered this recipe from Zia Lucia, you will be able to make any risotto – the method stays the same – just change the main ingredient!
300g Carnaroli or Aborio rice
700g Green asparagus
salt and pepper to taste
1 lit vegetable stock (homemade or from a stock cube)
1 shallot finely chopped
3 tablespoons Terre Di San Vito’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil
70g of butter
Asparagus cream mixture
Preparing the asparagus:
Clean and trim the asparagus: Remove the hard/white part of the stalk.
In a pan of boiling, salted water, add all the asparagus.
Cook until tender but not mushy (6-8 min).
Remove from the water and cut the top 1/3 off the spears and set aside
Chop the rest of the stalks into small pieces and divide into two portions.
To make the asparagus cream mixture:
Place one half of the chopped stalks into a blender (or use a hand blender) and add approx. 250ml of the vegetable stock.
Blend together until smooth.
To make the risotto:
In a large heavy based pan, melt 40g of the butter and add the olive oil.
Add the chopped onion and sauté until softened and translucent.
Add the rice, allowing it to toast for a couple of minutes, ensuring that you stir the rice often. Use a wooden spoon.
When it starts turning opaque in colour and begins to crackle and hiss, pour in the white wine.
Allow the wine to evaporate and then stir in the remaining chopped, steamed asparagus, remember to keep the asparagus tips for the garnish.
Reduce the heat and add the asparagus cream (the blended asparagus and stock), stirring constantly.
When most of the liquid has been absorbed, add another ladleful of the hot stock and keep stirring until it has been absorbed.
Keep doing this until the rice feels tender on the outside but still has a ‘bite’ to it – known in Italy as ‘al dente’. This should take around 15 – 18 minutes.
Add the parmesan and remaining butter and mix thoroughly – and quickly so that the butter and cheese become creamy.
Add the remaining asparagus spears and give it a final stir.
Remove from the heat.
Taste and add salt and pepper if required (take care not to over salt this as the stock will contain salt if using a stock cube as will the parmesan).
Serve immediately with an extra sprinkle of parmesan or a drizzle of our extra virgin olive oil!
If you have any leftover risotto, don’t throw it away! It can be eaten cold or you can turn them into mini aranchini (deep fried rice balls) – a delicious recipe – I will post one soon!
Always serve this with a bottle of our fabulous Terre Di San Vito’s white wine Apen