Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Asparagus Basil Risotto

Ah! This dish is pure spring to me. Elegant and refined and utterly delicious. We make it to celebrate Palm Sunday, the week before Easter, when Jesus entered Jerusalem and was hailed as King.  Asparagus Basil Risotto is the ideal choice, firstly because I love asparagus. It reminds me of my grandma who grew it out along the ditch bank. And secondly, because what says spring so well as this sweet green sprouting grass? And thirdly, asparagus looks so much like a king's scepter and in Greek basileus = king, so asparagus-basil anything seems almost divinely designed for our feast to welcome in Easter's King. 

 I love especially the responsiveness and delicacy of this recipe, the required admiring of its colors and scents,  not to mention the "Keep tasting" section. We began making this with a recipe from Healthy Mediterranean Cooking by Rena Salaman and have made a few adjustments to satisfy our own palates.

Cut the tips from
14 oz. asparagus, trimmed of hard stems
and set aside the tips.  Cut each stalk in two and cook in plenty of lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Drop asparagus tips in boiling water, 30 seconds only.  Remove with slotted spoon. Turn the boiling asparagus cooking water down to simmer. Place just over half of the asparagus stalk pieces in blender with
3 Tablespoons cream a few basil leaves with their stems
and 2-3 Tablespoons of asparagus cooking liquid.  Blend into a light green velvety sauce and set aside. Chop the remaining stalk pieces into thin rounds and set aside. Heat a heavy skillet and add
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped4-5 green onions, coarsely chopped
until just wilted. Add gradually
14 oz. risotto rice (a short-grained type like arborio)
stirring over a gentle heat until well coated in oil. Add
½ cup white cooking wine
once absorbed, start adding by ladleful
8 cups hot chicken stock
and ½ cup of the asparagus cooking liquid.  Keep stirring to prevent rice from sticking.

After about 25 minutes -- when rice has doubled in volume, is losing its chalky color and is becoming soft -- season to taste and add the blended asparagus sauce.  Stir the sauce gently into the risotto, which will turn a lovely pale green color.  Simmer for 10 minutes more.  Keep tasting the rice at this step in order to catch it at the desired moment.  It should be soft outside but firm in the middle, with a very creamy appearance.  Add more liquid if necessary. 

Once risotto is ready, add
salt and freshly ground pepper
to taste and gently stir in
a couple handsful of basil leaves, roughly torn - reserving a few pretty leaves for garnishand 2 oz. grated parmesan
plus the asparagus rounds and half the tips.  Mix gently, cover and remove from heat.  It can now wait for 5 minutes but no more. Empty onto a warm platter, scatter the remaining asparagus tips over the top, garnish with a few more basil leaves and serve with a bowl of
1 - 2 oz. of grated parmesan

And for dessert . . .
is simply divine and very Kingly.

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