Continuing my tour through my favourite asparagus recipes, one of the best ways to eat this veg is really in a risotto. Now, I'm rather particular to risottos, both the traditional italian recipes, like plain white risotto with lemon zest and parsley, or a cauliflower risotto dusted with spicy hot fried breadcrumbs, as well as the risottos I came up with, like my quite delicious - if I do say so myself - squid risotto and my cod in tomato broth risotto. The asparagus risotto is probably a quite widely known recipe, but we came up with our own take, a very simple one, because when it comes to italian food, simple is always the best - yes, I am against pineapple in pizzas!!
For this recipe you start off by chopping a leek in fine slices and a celery stick in small diced cubes. You can add garlic, I always do, but it is not necessary. Gently stir fry these veggies in a tablespoon of olive oil, and dice the asparagus, leaving the tips slightly bigger. They're the tenderest part and they take the least amount of time to cook, you want them intact and with a bit of a bite about them. Now, asparagus have very stringy and fibre-y ends to them, and these ends, though they are clearly not good to eat, are quite useful so you should always keep them, for making stock or soups. To get those ends off, you just need to grab the whole asparagus tip in one hand, end in the other, and gently bend it. Where it breaks off is where the stringy part of it begins. Use these in this recipe to make vegetable stock, by putting them in a litre of water with some sea salt and letting it come to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let this stock simmer away at the lowest temperature, as you use it to cook the risotto. You will always need stock for a risotto - trust me, plain water just doesn't cut it! - and in this particular case I advise you to stick to a vegetable stock or a chicken stock, any other kind of stock is just going to be way too overwhelming and will drown out the asparagus flavour in the risotto. If you don't want to make your own stock, there's always store bought ones!
Once the celery, the leek and the garlic are just about transparent, add a mug of Arborio or Carnaroli rice - there are other types, but these are the easiest ones to get a hold of in Portugal - and gently fry it until it starts to get transparent and it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add a glass of whatever kind of white wine you might have around the house - and here's a trick: we used whisky diluted with some tap water, and the best risotto I ever made was done with hootch/ aguardente in Portugal instead of wine! - and stir gently, letting the liquid and the alcohol evaporate. Once it has evaporated, dunk the asparagus into the rice, keeping the tips out, and start adding laddles of stock, one at the time, always stirring, lowering the heat to allow it to cook through very gently. By mid cooking don't forget to check the seasoning and add the asparagus tips For some people the idea of just standing there stirring a pot of rice and adding bit after bit of liquid to it might be daunting, I find it quite relaxing. Once the rice is cooked through, add a small cube of butter and about 15 gr of freshly grated Parmiggiano or Grana Padano cheese, depending on taste, some lemon zest, chopped parsley and allow it to rest for a few minutes. Serve with a good chilled white wine, and enjoy your meal!