Here is a beautiful spring risotto, made with asparagus. This gorgeous, simple and delicious green risotto really shows off the flavours of the asparagus.
What is it about this risotto? It is the first of the season’s asparagus that is looked forward to by Italians with a lot of joy. Asparagus risotto, with its melting creaminess offset against the chew of the rice and the delicacy of young asparagus, enriched with butter and parmesan which is whipped into the rice at the end, is a joy to create and a pleasure to eat.
The secret to the dish is softened asparagus, properly cooked rice and using good risotto rice. Strictly an entree dish in Northern Italy, in Australia we have turned this into a one-course meal. It pairs well with a fresh green garden salad.
If you haven’t cooked risotto before here are some basics.
This is a vegetarian recipe from our first blog which was in existence from 1995 – 2006. You can browse other recipes from this blog in our Retro Recipes series.
If you’ve never made risotto before, we recommend that you read the following:
There are a few risotto rices available. Rices suitable for risotto have a creamy, chewy texture due to its higher amylopectin (one of two components in its starch) content. Aborio is a very popular risotto rice, but it is fun to experiment with different rices. Your Italian grocery will most likely stock alternative risotto rices. There is an argument that aborio is not the best rice for risotto. Most recommended alternatives are carnaroli and vialone nano. Recently I have been using Riso Vialone Nano, but for this one I am using carnaroli. It is wonderfully creamy.
Asparagus Risotto with Basil
5 cups water or light vegetable stock – may need more
10 – 12 medium spears of asparagus
2 Tblspn olive oil
25 g butter + 1 Tblspn more
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
300g risotto rice (see the note above about risotto rices)
50g parmesan cheese, freshly grated
0.5 cups loosely packed, shredded fresh basil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot, bring the water or stock to the boil and add the salt. Wash the asparagus if necessary, and trim the stalks if necessary. Cook asparagus in the water for 4 – 5 minutes. Remove the asparagus, saving the water or stock. Cut each stalk into three or more pieces, trimming any hard ends.
Bring the water or stock back to the boil.
In a heavy based pan, heat the oil and the butter, add the garlic and chilli and cook for 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir to coat; continue to make a basic risotto with the rice and using the cooking water. Stir the rice in the oil and butter for 2 minutes until you hear a cracking sound and the rice becomes translucent. Add a ladle of the water, and stir until it is absorbed. Continue adding more liquid in this manner until the rice is cooked.
Use a wooden spoon and make sure that you stir the risotto often, especially toward the end of the cooking time. This brings out the starch in the rice, which is what makes it so creamy.
Taste after 18 minutes. The rice should be firm to the bite. If you like it less chalky, cook for up to another 5 minutes, so that it is tender in the middle, but not soft. Remove the rice from the heat.
When the rice is cooked but still al dente, add the extra butter and cheese, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until all the butter and cheese is incorporated, adding a little more stock if necessary to keep it moist and soupy. Add the basil and asparagus and mix through.
Season, cover and rest for two minutes and serve.
recipe notes and alternatives
Splash a little dry white wine on the rice before adding any stock. Stir until the wine is absorbed, and then continue.
If I have trimmed a little of the stalk – the tough, stringy end – I leave them in the stock/water as it simmers on the stove, to add more flavour. If you do this, be careful that the ends don’t end up in the risotto.
Top the risotto with goats cheese, if desired.
Use a few chives with the basil.
Replace part of the basil with some chopped mint. You can add a few peas to the risotto as well if you wish.
If you can find some golden shallots, saute them in the butter and oil until soft and translucent before adding the rice.