Any day now, ANY DAY NOW, we should be greeted with a true harbinger of spring—asparagus. They start out as tiny spears poking up through the soil in the spring and end in the fall as 5-9 foot tall, unruly, ferny bushes. Asparagus is a good source of Folic Acid and potassium. Around here, you should start seeing it on farm stands in the next few weeks. I think the best asparagus is picked early in the season, so get it while the getting’s good!
To get the most tender part of an asparagus stalk, hold it at both ends and bend. It should snap at the point separating the tender part from the part that tends to get a little tough. I use the tender spear tops for steaming, grilling, etc., and save the bottom part for soups. The longer asparagus sits around the tougher it gets, so farm-fresh local stalks (as always) will be your best bet.
Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto
I had dinner at my friends Kristi and Illya’s a while back. Illya made the perfect risotto, it was so creamy and delicious that I imagined it was chock-full of butter and cream. It wasn’t. It didn’t have a lick of cream and only a dab of butter.
I had always heard how laborious and difficult risotto is to make. Illya assured me that it wasn’t and showed me how. He was right. Risotto is an easy, but impressive, dish to make. The variations are endless. One of my favorite, over-the-top rich risottos is Gorgonzola and mushrooms.
Arborio rice is traditionally used in risotto. Its high starch content gives it a beautiful creamy consistency. You may substitute other types of rice but you won’t get the same degree of creaminess.
1 pound tender asparagus (about 3 cups) cut into 1/2 inch-long pieces
5 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 pound Prosciutto chopped (La Quercia is my favorite brand)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt/pepper to taste
- Using a medium-large frying pan, sauté onions in olive oil until soft.
- Add 2 cup of Arborio rice to the pan; toast the rice over medium-high heat for a few minutes.
- Keep a pot/bowl of warm chicken/vegetable stock close by. Add a ladleful of stock to the pan with rice. Stir to keep the rice from sticking. Once the stock has been absorbed, add another ladleful. Keep repeating.
- Meanwhile, steam asparagus for 5-7 minutes. Asparagus is done when the color is bright and vivid green.
- Once about half of the stock is added, add the Prosciutto and steamed asparagus
- Add the remaining stock as before, one ladle at a time. The rice should be tender but not mushy. If the rice is not tender, you can continue to add small amounts of water until the dish has a nice creamy consistency.
- Add butter and cheese and stir well.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve risotto warm. Add a salad for a meal, or serve a smaller portion as a side dish.