It Might as Well be Spring, Spring, Spring…

                              “A little madness in the spring is wholesome even for the king.”   -Emily Dickinson

It hit 50 F this week.  Maybe more.
If you breathed really deeply, love was in the air.

When a girl’s thoughts turn toward…

You guessed it:  asparagus.

Of course, it’s Fed Ex asparagus. (Ask me if I care.  I want asparagus and I want it NOW.  And, it’s never market-ready in Colorado Springs.  Like many other things, we’re kinda the import city of America food-wise.  Even the Native Americans never tried to live here and grow anything.  How smart were they?)

Living in Europe, I yearned and burned for green asparagus.  Germans, when I lived in Germany, cultivated only white asparagus, grown under mounds of dirt to prevent it from greening.  Green asparagus was for animals and it grew wild in Russia, where no one ever thought to bother it.  No, we ate spargel in Germany and, I guess we were glad to get it.  But, hey.  It was fat spargel.  And I never got used to its pale hue.  Looked a bit sick to me.  Give me the skinny green stuff any day.

We’ve had asparagus nearly all winter, but the other day it simply looked like spring asparagus to me.  I had to have some; I had to have a couple of bunches.  It was like a windfall of riches.  When I got home, I sat around dreaming about what I could do with it.  For, oh, about five minutes.  I had to get dinner done and get to book club that night.  (BLUE DIARY by Alice Hoffman–a good read that was oh-so-sad.)

I could have sauteed some onions, added the asparagus and some chicken broth and simmered the pot until the vegetables were tender.  A whirrrrrrrrr in the blender and  I’d throw it in bowls topped with sprigs of dill and a baby spoon of sour cream. We’d have “cream” soup.

I could have grilled it.  (This is my fave.)  Salt, pepper, olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Thassall.  Phew–right down it goes.

I could have steamed it in the microwave for TWO minutes and we could have eaten the spears with our fingers after dipping it into a mustard vinaigrette.

Somehow my head kept bowing in the direction of where the little book on risotto used to be (I had given it away.)  A little pesto (I had basil), a little onion, a handful of cheese and there was dinner.  Who could ask for anything more?   Here’s how I did it…

Asparagus Risotto made for Spring Love

1# asparagus, cleaned and cut into 1″ pieces
1T unsalted butter
1T olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped finely                                                                   
1 c arborio rice
Kosher salt; fresh ground pepper
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/4 c white wine (use more chicken stock if you don’t care for wine)
4 c unsalted chicken stock, heated and kept warm in another pot on the stove

1 c fresh basil leaves
3T walnuts, plus a couple of extra whole ones for garnish
2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 c extra virgin olive oil                                                                    
1/2 c freshly-grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c   ”           ”      manchego (your choice–I had manchego)

In a heavy 4qt saucepan, saute the onion for five minutes over medium heat.  Add rice and cook another 5 minutes or so until it just begins to turn a tish golden here and there.  Careful it doesn’t burn.   Season rice and onions with salt and both peppers. 

Raise heat to medium-high and pour in 1 c chicken stock.  Stirring often, cook until stock is absorbed…   You must stir very well, particularly if you don’t have a really heavy pan.  It will stick and burn easily.  Pete and repeat using almost all of the stock.    (While the risotto is cooking, make the pesto.)  When you have only about 1 c stock left in the other pan, add the asparagus pieces and, for the last couple of broth additions, add only 1/3-1/2 cups broth.  Taste now to see how close to done the rice is.  You want it with a little bite, but the risotto should be juicy when you serve it.  Nothing mushy, please.

When the last bit of broth is absorbed, turn off the heat, stir in all but 2T of the pesto, and let the risotto sit uncovered for 3-4 minutes.  It will finish cooking now.  Eat hot, garnishing with a little pesto and a walnut half.

PESTO:  Combine basil, nuts, and garlic in the food process or with mortar and pestle.  Slowly add olive oil until you have a smooth paste.   Stir in cheeses.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Option:  A real meat eater might add 2 strips/pieces of bacon or pancetta, chopped and cooked up with the onion.

Below–  Next night:  leftover risotto with some grilled chicken on a bed of spinach topped with mushrooms, red peppers and garlic cooked in a bit of cream and chicken broth.

Tell me what makes it spring for you?

Sing a new song; make a new risotto,
Alyce           oh, and ….of course,


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