Risotto with zucchini and asparagus
Risotto is too heavy a dish for Italian summers so once May arrives we eat more pasta. But that still leaves a couple of months to enjoy a simple risotto using just zucchini or asparagus. Both are excellent springtime dishes individually but even better when combining the two ingredients.
I would add here that too many American and English cooks can't resist stuffing a recipe like this full of all sorts of ingredients that no Italian would dream of adding to a risotto. Instead of trying to educate foreign palates about the beautiful simplicity of many Italian dishes and helping people understand the importance of the quality of the olive oil or the parmigiano or the freshness of the vegetables, they add garlic or cream or even bake the risotto in the oven. How are you supposed to appreciate tender young vegetables and exquisite olive oil with many of these other ingredients added ?
We need a new word that describes this type of cuisine, like 'Tex-Mex' for hybrid American Mexican food. Something that can describe Italian recipes transmogrified to suit local tastes. Nothing wrong with doing this as long as you don't pretend that they are authentic Italian recipes anymore, but frankly some of these combinations just don't make sense from a taste perspective.
Ingredients for 2:
0.75 liter vegetable stock
185 grams ( 6.5 oz) Carnaroli rice
150 grams fresh young asparagus
150 grams fresh young small zucchini
half an onion chopped very finely
half glass dry white wine
35 grams ( 1.2 oz) butter
35 grams (1.2 oz) Parmigiano reggiano
extra virgin Italian olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare a simple vegetable brodo (stock) using a carrot, onion and 2 ribs of celery together with the woody ends of the asparagus, some left over pieces of zucchini and some parsley stalks and leaves. Chop them roughly and add about 1 liter of water, bring to the boil and then simmer covered for 45 minutes. Strain and discard the vegetables and keep the stock hot, ready to add to the rice.
2. Finely dice half an onion and sweat on a medium low heat in a mixture of oil and butter in a high-sided pan for 5 minutes or so but don't let it color.
3. Cut off the tender tips of the asparagus and set aside with the zucchini flowers (remove the stamen or pistil first). With the woody ends already removed for the stock, chop the remaining spears into 1 inch pieces.
4. Dice the zucchini.
When the onion has been sweating gently for about 5 minutes, add the rice and turn the heat up high. Stir continuously for a minute or two until all the rice is coated with the onion and butter mixture and well warmed. Add half a glass of white wine and let the alcohol burn off for a minute until the rice becomes a little dry again.
From this point until the rice is cooked will take around 18 minutes. Start by adding a full ladle of hot stock to the risotto and now you’ll need to stay by the stove and stir regularly until the rice is fully cooked. Add the stock to the risotto one ladle at a time whenever the rice starts to dry out but don’t drown the rice by adding too much at once. The risotto will also require salt as the stock itself is unsalted.
7. While you're tending to the rice and adding stock put some butter and /or olive oil into a third pan and sauté the chopped asparagus spears and zucchini for no more than 10 minutes until almost cooked but still with a bit of crunch to them. Season with salt and pepper and add them to the risotto together with the reserved asparagus tips and flowers after the rice has been cooking for about 15 minutes.
8. At this point check the risotto for salt and start tasting the rice to determine when it’s fully cooked. If you run out of stock keep some boiling water to hand to keep the process going because cold water will reduce the temperature and affect the timing. Add smaller quantities of stock at this point because you don’t want to be left with a soupy mixture when the rice is fully cooked.
Once the rice is cooked turn the heat off, let it rest for a minute and then with a wooden spoon vigorously beat into the risotto some cold butter from the fridge together with the cheese.