This is a La Niña year which in Seattle usually means cold and snow. In the fall, there were dire predictions about how much of the white stuff we were going to get. Randy and I even contemplated adding snow tires to our SUV just so we could get around. Alas, what we have gotten is warmer than usual temps and lots and lots of rain.
Rain is nothing new in Seattle. I grew up here and winter means rain around these parts. Still, by the middle of February, I start to feel a little desperate. Yes, the days are noticeably longer and I see a few pink blossoms on the cherry trees, but gray is still the color and going to the park means getting drenched. I do my best to cook seasonally and I scoff at people who buy asparagus in November. But I just needed me some green and so these (very beautiful, I must say) asparagus went into my cart.
As is often the case when I have a vegetable I want to feature but no specific plans, I made risotto. Visions of lots of lemon and lemon thyme (which is still growing in my yard) were dancing in my head until I realized I had no lemons. I’m not sure how that is possible, I always have lemons, but an adjustment had to be made. What about orange? It turns out that the zest of one orange grated into a pot of asparagus-y pea-y risotto brought winter and spring together deliciously.
A word about the method. Until recently, I made risotto the traditional way – adding small amounts of broth into the rice and constantly stirring. A few issues ago, Cook’s Illustrated tested out a different less hands-on way to make risotto and I have never looked back.
By the way, I am teaching a brunch class on Saturday, April 2nd and Sunday, April 3rd. Come join me!
5 cups vegetable broth
1 small bunch asparagus, about 1 pound, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tbsp. butter
1 large shallot, finely diced
2 garlic clove, minced
1 small orange bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1½ cups Arborio rice
Zest of 1 orange
½ cup dry white wine
¾ cup frozen peas, no need to thaw
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn heat to low.
Boil water in another medium saucepan. Add a large pinch of salt and then stir in the asparagus. Cook until just crisp-tender, about 3 minutes, then immediately transfer the asparagus to a ice water bath. Allow to cool completely, then drain.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Melt the butter then add the shallots along with a large pinch of salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and orange bell pepper and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir well to coat with the fat and vegetables and also to toast it slightly. Pour in the wine and stir constantly until the wine is absorbed.
Pour in most of the vegetable stock, holding back about 1 cup of it. Stir the pot vigorously for 1 minute. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring vigorously just twice. Uncover and add the asparagus, peas, cheese, and herbs. Give it a good stir and add a bit of stock at a time, stirring constantly, until the rice is al dente. You want a decent amount of liquid in the risotto – not so enough that it is soup, but not dry either. Season to taste with salt and pepper.