Because I live in Los Angeles, I am treated to asparagus throughout almost the entire year. But when springtime arrives, I join the rest of you in relishing the finest examples of this smart, versatile stalk of folic-acid packed lily (that’s right, put it in the Google!) that the fertile ground can offer.
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Let’s take this vegetable to the weeknight kitchen. Of course you can simply steam it and dab its braided tip with some sea salt and nice black pepper and call it a night. But why not instead make it the very important accent on the already rich and delicious Browned Butter Asparagus Risotto; think a nice string of pearls added to that designer dress that you actually got at Target.
While this dish does require the normal amount of stirring and thus the same mild concentration that all risottos need, you don’t need to do much more than that. In truth, you don’t really need to even be sober, as I discovered while downing a very nice Chianti with a friend as I put this dish together. (Are you feeling judgment? Did I not tell you a blog or two ago that I am alone with my children nearly all the time these days? Uh huh, you’re passing the cork screw now huh?)
First, you are steaming this asparagus just the way KelseyTheNaptimeChef instructs you, being careful not to overcook it. Then you are browning your butter, preferably, Kelsey tells us, in a risotto pan which naturally I have never heard of (my large sauce pan did just fine). Browning the butter takes all of 3 minutes and the nutty flavor enhancement it provides is worth it.
Instead of the onion she calls for sautéing, I used a large shallot simply because I prefer them, but you do as you like as long as you use her method.
I also warmed my chicken stock a bit before adding it, because I think that works better somehow; I was left with about ¼ of a cup even though I measured out the 4 called for. She does tell you to add them ½ cup at a time which I suppose accounts for different brands of rice, so you might be left with some as well, or not. She instructs you to cook it for several minutes once the stock is absorbed; I found it done by the time this happened, perhaps because I did add mine a bit slowly.
The recipe also calls for ½ cup of parmesan cheese – I just tossed in a giant handful, which was really a bit too much and I suggest you do as Kelsey says. The asparagus added the perfect texture, crunch and tasty bit of spring to this completely fulfilling and easy dish, perfect for a weeknight when paired with a salad. Or nothing else frankly –- it’s that satisfying. I’m not just saying this because I was on my third glass of wine when I ate it. Everyone else –- my dinner guest and the children –- agreed.
4 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred, but Knorr cubes are fine, too)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
Kosher salt & fresh pepper
Trim the asparagus and blanch it in a pot of boiled water. Once it is tender enough to be speared with a fork, drain the water and cut the asparagus into 2" pieces. Set aside.
In a low-wide saucepan, or a specialty risotto pan if you have one, heat 4 T. of butter over medium heat. Allow the butter to warm until it gets bubbly and turns a golden brown and has a nutty fragrance. This takes a little under 2 minutes.
Add the chopped onion to pan and allow it to simmer in the browned butter until translucent and tender. About 4-5 minutes.
Next, add the rice and stir until it is coated with the butter and well-mixed with the onion, then add the wine and deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up any browned bits.
Simmer until the wine has almost evaporated. Then, add 1/2 c. of the chicken stock and stir until it is completely absorbed. Continue adding the chicken stock by 1/2 c., stirring constantly, until it is all absorbed. About 10 minutes.
Once all the chicken stock has been added, cook until the rice is tender to the bite. About 8-10 minutes. Then remove risotto from heat and stir in the remaining parmesan and butter. Taste the risotto and if it needs more salt add the Kosher salt pinch by pinch, stirring after each addition until it suits your taste. (I find that when I use unsalted homemade stock I need to add salt, but I don't when I use the Knorr bouillon cubes which are already salty).
Finally, using a wooden spoon, stir the asparagus pieces into the risotto and finish off with a few cranks for black pepper if you want. Serve hot.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, is the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).