A Chef's Secret to the Best Asparagus Risotto Recipe Ever
I have made many risotto meals over the years, and they usually turn out pretty good, but the other night, I made a simple Asparagus Risotto that was the best I've ever made. My other favorite risotto recipes include Basic Risotto with Shrimp, Risotto Milanese, and Wild Mushroom Risotto (below).
What inspired me to make the Asparagus Risotto is a wonderful little book by Chef Robert Reynolds called An Excuse to Be Together. It's not really a cookbook like we think of, although it has numerous incredible recipes. Still, more of a dialogue with the reader about Chef Reynolds's experiences in France, shopping for great local ingredients and then preparing them with his students.
I have his book beside my bed, and occasionally, I pick it up and read a chapter to get inspired about food and learn a new trick or two from Chef Reynolds. That's how I came across his recipe for a simple Asparagus Risotto.
By the way, Madeline Kamman trained Chef Robert Reynolds in France and is an experienced restaurateur and teacher. He and Josephine Araldo wrote the cookbook From A Breton Garden. You can find my interview with Chef Reynolds at my Novice2Pro Chef Interviews, and if you are interested in attending his cooking school in Portland, Oregon, there is a link to his website there too.
A Recipe Written Like A Novel
I love reading recipes that read like an essay or novel. For example, here is an excerpt from Chef Robert's book about preparing his risotto:
"I went in search of a straight-sided sauté pan. I tend to use an equal amount of butter and oil in the pan when starting risotto, heating one until it releases its perfume before adding the other. When the temperature is right, I put in onions cut to the size of rice grains. I gently sprinkle of salt and sauté until they melt."
Not only is that a joy to read, but look at what you can learn about making risotto in that one paragraph.
- Cook risotto in a straight-sided sauté pan. I always made my risotto in a large saucepan or small stockpot.
- Use butter and oil instead of just one or the other.
- Wait to add the oil until you can smell the butter.
- Cut the onions very, very small.
- When to add salt - right after you add the onions.
All that from just a couple of sentences. That's a "learning" recipe and gets me excited.
More Chef Secrets About Cooking Risotto
Here are a few more tips and techniques I learned from reading Chef's Chapter 12, Having a Man in the Kitchen. I'm sure every time I read this chapter, something new will pop out at me, but for now:
- Find the freshest ingredients available. The fresher they are, the more flavor your dishes will have.
- Before adding any liquids, cook the risotto with the onions until the rice becomes opaque. I made this dish with my 10-year-old daughter, and she was delighted when she saw the rice change from solid white to opaque.
- Use the best chicken stock you can find. Chef Reynolds says you can "judge the dish's flavor by the taste of the broth."
- Don't over-salt or salt too early because the "reduction only concentrates salt."
- Blanch the asparagus separately and add it later. In the past, I often cooked vegetables with risotto, which often resulted in overcooked, soggy vegetables.
- If you like creamy risotto, you have to stir vigorously and constantly. The entire dish should take about 25 to 30 minutes, and you can't walk away to do something else. You need to stay with it and keep stirring.
- "Stop cooking when the rice feels soft but still retains enough toothsome quality that allows me still to distinguish the shape and texture of the grain."
- Let the risotto rest for 5 minutes when done cooking. This allows it to absorb more liquid and "soufflé" (fluff up).
Asparagus Risotto Recipe
What inspired me to make the Asparagus Risotto is a wonderful little book by Chef Robert Reynolds called An Excuse to Be Together.
It's not really a cookbook like we think of, although it has numerous incredible recipes. Still, more of a dialogue with the reader about Chef Reynolds's experiences in France, shopping for great local ingredients and then preparing them with his students.
Note: Since I first posted this recipe, Chef Reynolds has passed away. Although I have not met Mr. Renolds, I spoke with him by phone and exchanged several emails.
He was a lovely man and very generous with his cooking knowledge.
Asparagus Risotto Recipe
- 1 bunch asparagus trimmed and blanched tender
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil extra-virgin
- 1 large white onion cut in a tiny dice
- 1 pound risotto rice preferably Canaroli or Arborio
- 2 cups white wine
- 1 quart chicken stock heated
- 1 quart water asparagus blanching
- Parmesan cheese Freshly ground, to taste
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- Heat the butter in a 9 - 10 inch straight-sided skillet. When it melts, add the olive oil and wait for it to come to temperature.
- Add the diced onion, a sprinkle of salt and sauté 3 to 4 minutes without browning until the onions soften.
- Add the rice, stirring with a wooden spoon to coat the rice. Heat without browning until the grains turn opaque.
- Raise the heat, add the white wine and quickly evaporate.
- Turn the heat back down, add enough warmed broth to cover the rice and cook slowly until the liquid evaporates. While the rice cooks, stir constantly, sometimes vigorously to release starches.
- Repeat this operation of adding liquid and reducing until the risotto seems tender. Taste the broth as you go along and add salt judiciously to make the liquid flavorful.
- When you think you are ready to add the last ladle of liquid, liquefy half a dozen asparagus spears in the water used to blanch the asparagus and finish the risotto with this liquid.
- When the risotto is cooked to your liking, turn the heat off and let it rest for five minutes.
- Spoon the risotto into flat bowls and garnish with whole asparagus stalks.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and give a grinding of pepper before serving.
Bonus Risotto Recipe
How to Make a Basic Mushroom Risotto Recipe
Basic Mushroom Risotto
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large sauce pot (3-4qt), add shallots and garlic, sauté until translucent.
- Add mushrooms and sauté for approx. 4-5 minutes until tender; remove and set aside.
- Add remaining olive oil and arborio rice and sauté over medium heat to toast the rice approximately 3 minutes.
- Add one cup of the simmering chicken stock, stirring constantly, and simmer until the stock is absorbed.
- Continue adding stock as it is absorbed, ½ cup at a time, until all the liquid is absorbed.
- Just before the rice is done, add the fresh thyme and reserved mushrooms. Stir to combine.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.