High-value deliciousness

I have to say that there is no food with higher deliciousness for effort than risotto. Admittedly, it does take some time. But for the total amount of effort input, there is no food that packs the same kind of tastiness. Do not endeavour to make risotto unless you have a solid 35-45 minutes. But man, if you do find yourself with enough time to wait while the rice does it thing, I cannot recommend risotto enough.

I really wanted to get this recipe out because there is only one week or so of asparagus season left in the northern mid-latitudes. Fresh, local asparagus tastes so many lightyears better than the imported green wooden sticks you get out of season, it’s important to make the most of it while it’s here.

Basically, I took this somewhat-dumbed-down recipe from Foodland Ontario and applied basic risotto methodology to it. Seriously, how thick do the Foodland Ontario people think we are? Evaporated milk? I do approve of their pairing with a nice fresh salad. Could also make a nice side dish for a nice, simple herbed, grilled chicken or even lamb.

I have made the following recipe twice in the last week, two different ways. I have typed it out in excruciating detail, but I’m hoping it will be accessible to people who might otherwise be intimidated by attempting this sort of dish on their own. Veterans can simply ignore my helicopter cheffing. This recipe makes 2 whole meals all by itself or 4-6 appetizers/side dishes.

The Finished Product
The Finished Product

Asparagus Mushroom Risotto

  • 450 g (1 lb, 1 bunch) local asparagus
  • 30 mL olive oil
  • 225 g (½ lb) mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion
  • 200 g arborio rice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 175-225 mL (¾-1 cup) dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • 500 mL (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock (look for “no salt added”)
  • 200 mL (1 cup) hot tap water, on standby
  • 5 mL (1 tsp) dry tarragon
  • small handful (maybe 6-12 leaves) fresh basil, chopped
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper or white pepper
  • (optional) 30 mL (2 tbsp) butter
  • 75 g (½ cup) fresh grated parmesan cheese or 100-150 g (½-¾ cup) nutritional yeast
  1. Bring a large-ish pot of water to boil.
  2. Break off your asparagus ends. I cannot stress the importance of removing the woody horrible ends enough. I know it seems like a lot of waste, but really, it’s not because that part of the asparagus is not any fun to eat. You are only saving yourself grief by discarding it.
  3. While the asparagus boils, slice mushrooms and set aside; chop the onion and garlic very finely and set aside.
  4. Chop asparagus into 2-4 cm (1-1½ in) pieces. Place in boiling water. Cook uncovered for 4 minutes. The asparagus should not be fully cooked yet, only mostly. It should still be crunchy and colourful. Drain and immediately run under cold water to stop cooking. Set aside (and remove from pot).
  5. Savour the smell of asparagus that now permeates your cooking space.
  6. In a small pot, place the stock over low heat.
  7. Over low heat, in the pot that the asparagus just left, heat the olive oil.  Add the onion, garlic and mushroom. Stir frequently. This is a process called “sweating”. We’re not going to for colour here, we want to soften everything and get the juices flowing while removing some of the water. Sweat the mixture for a good 5-10 minutes, until the onions are see-through. At first, you will just hear sizzling, then you will see water starting to pool around the veggies. Finally, the water will evaporate away. When things seem fairly dry (and your mushrooms are about half their original size), you’re done this phase.
  8. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Chuck in the arborio rice. It’s important to stir constantly and quickly here or you’ll burn the rice. Fry the rice with the veg for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  9. Stir in the wine or vermouth. Turn heat down to medium-low. (optional) Pour yourself a glass of wine.
  10. Stir gently for a few minutes until the mixture starts to look dry again. This is the magic of risotto. It requires patience and gentle, almost constant stirring.
  11. As soon as it looks like the wine has been absorbed, ladle in about 100 mL (½ cup) of hot stock. Stirring. Always stirring. Almost hypnotic, isn’t it?
  12. Repeat that process until you have run out of stock. As you add more and more, the mix should get creamier and creamier. Because you have it over medium-low heat, are adding hot stock and are stirring gently and constantly. This whole process should take a good 20 minutes. As you get nearer the end of the stock, you will also notice that it takes longer for the rice to absorb the latest addition. Patience, grasshopper.
  13. Taste your rice. If it is still hard/crunchy/crumbly, ladle in some of the hot tap water, always stirring. Repeat this until the rice is soft but still firm.
  14. Add your spices. If you used no-salt stock, you will have to add quite a bit of salt. Keep stirring and tasting as you add it; you will know when you’ve put enough salt in. I use black pepper, but that is because I use vegetable stock and can therefore never have a pristine white risotto, so I don’t care much about the colour. If you are using white mushrooms and chicken stock, use white pepper to preserve the pure colour.
  15. Add your asparagus. Stir for another couple of minutes to heat up the asparagus and to allow the flavours to develop.
  16. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and parmesan or nutritional yeast. If you skipped the butter, used vegetable stock and nutritional yeast, congratulations, you just made a delicious vegan meal. If not, congratulations, you just made a delicious meal.
  17. Serve immediately. Makes pretty good leftovers, if you can resist eating it all right then and there.