May 2008 note: This photo shows an all-asparagus, no-pea version. I had a whole bunch of fresh asparagus this time, so I used it all--probably about 2 cups.
A has always claimed, with a little shudder, that he doesn’t like risotto. While I’ve never been a voracious risotto eater (given the choice between rice and noodles, I’ll choose noodles every time), I do have a few recipes in my vault. I like the creaminess of risotto, and its versatility—like pasta, you can dress it up with every vegetable and herb and meat and flavoring under the sun. Ever since I moved in with A, I’ve been reduced to making risotto only when he leaves town. This one I found last summer in an old issue of Martha Stewart Living that had been jettisoned in the office lunchroom. It looked so springy, velvety-white flecked with green and yellow, I couldn’t resist tearing it out and making it while A was in Indiana over the Fourth of July. It was good, but ever since then it’s been back in the vault.
Now spring is springing and I’m buying asparagus at the farmers’ market every single week and eating it every which way I can, and with a craving for lemony, cheesy, asparagus risotto, I announced to A that I’d be making it for dinner whether he liked it or not. I bet him he would like it, and I was right. When we finished eating, he pushed back his plate with a bemused expression on his face and admitted, “Maybe I’ve never had risotto before. Maybe when I said I didn’t like it, I was thinking of something different.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or sock him in the arm. All this time I’ve been avoiding making risotto for no reason? Ha! Henceforth, let the floodgates of risotto recipes be opened!
Making risotto is hard for me, because it requires a lot of patience. Often I’ve followed a recipe to the letter and then bitten into underdone rice. Those recipes were probably flawed, but I should have used my powers of sensory observation while I was cooking instead of just blindly, impatiently following the directions. After much trial and error, I can finally recognize the texture of properly done risotto, and I know it always takes longer than I think it will. I like this recipe because it calls for a generous amount of broth. I think my cooking time far exceeded Martha’s oddly precise estimates (I love the part that says, “It should take about 13 minutes”), but the quantity of broth was right on, and having to wait for all 6 cups of it to be absorbed helped me slow down and give the rice the time it needed. I was a bit handicapped by the fact that I was practically cooking in the dark—the light bulb above the stove had chosen that day to burn out, and of course we had no spares on hand—but the risotto turned out perfectly, maybe the best version I’ve made.
No edits to the recipe, except that I only used ½ cup of peas. A hates them, so my neat solution was to cook the risotto without them, dish up half of it into his bowl and a storage container, and then add the peas (thawed in the microwave) to the remaining two servings for me. I probably used more than 6 asparagus spears—just however many were in the bunch I got at the market. Of course, I used homemade stock, which I strongly recommend for a recipe that draws so much of its flavor from the broth.
6 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
6 thin asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup thawed frozen peas
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Bring stock to a boil in a medium saucepan; turn off heat.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in another medium saucepan. Add onion; cook, stirring constantly, until translucent, 6–7 minutes. Add rice; cook, stirring constantly, until edges of grains are translucent, 2–3 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high. Add wine; cook, stirring constantly, until wine has completely evaporated.
3. Add ½ cup stock; cook, stirring constantly, until stock has been completely absorbed and a wooden spoon drawn through rice leaves a trail in its wake. Continue adding about 4 more cups stock, ½ cup at a time, waiting for each addition to be absorbed before adding the next. (It should take about 13 minutes.)
4. Stir in the asparagus. Add ½ to 1 cup more stock, in the same manner as described above. About 1 minute before risotto is done, stir in the peas. Risotto is done when liquid looks creamy and grains are cooked but still slightly firm in the centers. (The total cooking time will be 16–20 minutes.)
5. Remove from heat; stir in ½ cup stock. (You may have stock left over.) Stir in zest, juice, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, parsley, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with more cheese.
Time: 45 minutes