Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Asparagus Risotto with Mushrooms

Late spring marks the beginning of festival season in my state. You name a piece of produce, there is something celebrating it! Strawberry festival, check. Tomato festival, check. Peach/pear/plum and apple festivals... check, check, check and check. Living near an agricultural area definitely has it's tasty perks!

Our most recent weekend celebration was for a pretty unlikely vegetable - asparagus! It is everywhere right now- in the grocery store, at the farmer's markets, and even in pop-up roadside stands. When you have all of this tasty greenery around you, you can't help but be inspired.

After attending that local Asparagus Festival, and tasting all of the goods (asparagus ice cream - who knew!?), I came home laden with three huge bunches of sweet asparagus to work with. The first thing I wanted to try my hand at was this creamy and earthy Asparagus Risotto with Mushrooms.
Delicious sweet & 'grassy' asparagus is quickly cooked in a rich risotto with butter, gourmet mushrooms, and aged parmesan cheese. Ooey-gooey and comforting, light but rich, this dish is a perfect springtime meal! It is also much easier to make than you think; in about twenty minutes you can have a 'fancy' meal on the table!

Asparagus Risotto with Mushrooms
serves 6

6-7 cups vegetable or chicken stock, homemade or quality store bought
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (found in the grocery rice aisle)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large bunch fresh asparagus, the thinner the stems, the better
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I prefer a mix of bella, shiitake, and oyster)
4 tablespoons butter, divided into 2 tablespoon portions
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup aged parmesan cheese, finely shredded
salt & fresh black pepper to taste

Take the vegetable or chicken stock and place in a medium pot over medium-high heat, until at a low simmer. Maintain this heat for the duration of cooking. You will be ladling the hot broth as you cook the rice.

Chop your onion, then wash, trim, and cut your asparagus into 1 inch pieces on a bias. Reserve. Shred the parmesan and also put aside.

In a large dutch oven or sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Cook until the butter is slightly foamy, but not brown. Add in the onion. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, but be careful not to brown the onion - you just want to soften them until they are translucent.

Next, pour in the rice. Stir to coat in the butter/onion sauce and cook for 3-5 minutes. This will help the starches release.

Start to add the simmering stock, about 1/2 a cup at a time, mixing to combine. Do not add more stock to the rice until the previous portion has just about evaporated. Keep the temperature at a low simmer. Continue to stir and add stock as needed, along with one hefty pinch of salt.

After about 15 minutes of pouring stock, stirring, and cooking, give the rice a quick taste. The rice should be softening, but still have some firmness in the middle of the grain. If you aren't quite there yet (i.e. too crunchy), continue to add stock and simmer.

Once you have reached the 'mostly cooked' stage, add the sliced mushrooms and another dose of stock. The mushrooms will reduce in size (and release their deliciousness) after about 3 minutes.

Add the chopped asparagus and stir, for 2-3 minutes, still adding stock if the previous liquid has evaporated. The asparagus will turn a bright green when cooked.

If your rice is cooked to the point you prefer (I like a soft outside and just a hint of toothsome texture in the middle), take off the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir well until completely melted. Add the shredded parmesan cheese as well, and stir until combined.

 Adjust salt and add fresh ground pepper if desired.

Plate immediately and enjoy!

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