There is nothing quite like our wonderful British asparagus, it is delicious. It is roughly available from May through to June, which is a very short season. One of my favourite ways of cooking with asparagus is to use it in a risotto. You can make a vegetarian version with asparagus, adding some mint and lemon just before serving. I like to make an asparagus risotto served with chicken. Needless to say both versions are served with lots of grated Parmesan. A glass of Sauvignon also works well with this dish.
(Serves 6 as a main course)
1 litre/1¾ pints vegetable or chicken stock
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 chicken breasts, chopped into pieces
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
600g/1lb 6oz risotto rice
250ml/9fl oz vermouth or dry white wine
2 bunches of asparagus, woody ends removed and discarded
1-2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus a block for grating
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1. Bring your stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Put 1-2 tbspns olive oil in a separate pan and cook your chicken pieces. Season well with salt and pepper. Once cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and put to one side.
2. In a clean pan add 1-2 tbspns olive oil and a little butter. Add the chopped onions and cook very gently for 15 minutes until soft, taking care not to let the onions brown. Once the onions are soft add the chopped garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Next add the rice (it will sizzle) and turn up the heat. Try not to let the rice mixture catch on the bottom of the pan, so keep stirring.
3. Quickly pour in the vermouth or wine. You will smell the alcohol immediately, so keep stirring all the time until it has evaporated, leaving the rice with a lovely perfume.
4. Add the stock to the rice a ladle at a time, stirring and waiting until it has been fully absorbed before adding the next. Turn the heat down to low so the rice does not cook too quickly, otherwise the outside of each grain will be stodgy and the inside hard and nutty. Add the chopped asparagus and allow it to cook with the rice in the stock. Continue to add ladlefuls of stock until it has all be absorbed. Keep stirring the risotto through out this process (for about 15 minutes).
5. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot and continue to cook the rice until soft (al dente) for approximately another 5 minutes. The risotto should hold its shape but be soft, creamy and oozy, and the overall texture should be slightly looser than you think you want it.
6. Turn off the heat. If you want a rich risotto add a knob of butter and stir in, then add a handful of Parmesan to the pot. Alternatively leave the mixture as it is for a less rich version. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Put a lid on the pan and leave the risotto to rest for a minute. Serve with some grated Parmesan on the table.