Friday, June 12, 2009

Spring vegetables = risotto primavera

You've already seen the peas and the favas, but one other spring vegetable that has been unfairly neglected on this blog is asparagus. Not because we don't like it and not because we can't get it. It's just been ignored.

Sorry asparagus.

Asparagus is big around here. And, actually, I mean that in two ways. First, there's tons of it and it is widely available in different colors: white, green, and purple. Second, it's also really fat. It's so fat that you'd expect it to be really tough, but it's actually been just as tender as any skinny asparagus you've ever eaten and it's really sweet.

Starting in the foreground, purple, green and finally white asparagus. ("Gard" in "asperges du Gard" on the sign is a region, administrative and otherwise, just west of Provence.) All of them fat. Well, except some of the greens you can see at the front of the table. (And that's the horse butcher you see in the background.)

I recently bought some white asparagus to put in a spring risotto with (again) peas and favas. White asparagus was perhaps not the wisest choice color-wise, but on this day they were the skinniest. It turned out that they had surprisingly tough skin so in the spirit of being in France, where asparagus is peeled, I peeled them.

This was served, the first time, with roasted chicken. The second, time with left-over roasted chicken. The third time -- did I mention that I made a whole bunch of risotto? -- with pork chops. So when you still have risotto after that, it's best to make arancini for apéro.

Mmmm ... fried rice balls with a melty grana padano center.


Risotto Primavera
1 lb unshelled favas
1.5 lb unshelled peas
10-15 asparagus spears
1 sm. onion, minced
1 lg. shallot, minced
350 g. arborio or carnaroli (about 2 c.)
0.5 c. white wine
about 5 c. of chicken broth, hot
3 oz. grated grana padano or parmesan

Shell the favas and peas, (peel and) cut the asparagus into bite-size pieces. Boil the favas to remove their outer shell (as in gnocchi post), set aside. Cook asparagus and peas in boiling (salted) water for 5-8 mn depending where on the crisp - tender scale you like them. Drain, rinse and set aside with favas.

Melt about 2 Tbs. butter in a large pot. Add onion and shallot and sauté until they're getting tender, but not turning brown. Add rice and turn to coat in the butter until the grains are a little translucent. Add wine and cook until it evaporates. Then add the chicken broth in one fell swoop (I saw this recently on a French cooking show and was skeptical, but it worked just as well as adding liquid little by little), give it a stir, lower the heat so that it simmers, cover and cook for 15 to 20 mn.

At the end, stir in the cheese an extra Tbs. of butter (if you like), salt and pepper to taste. Then fold in the vegetables.

Left over risotto
Grana padano or parmesan cut into little cubes (3/8-in dice?)

Form leftover risotto into balls (about the size of a clementine) around a cube of cheese. Chill for an hour (if you can wait that long).

Heat oil to 350 - 375F. If you don't have a fryer (ours is in Columbus) or a thermometer (we don't), never fear! Put about an inch and a half of oil in a 2-liter pot with, following a tip from Cook's Illustrated, a little cube of fresh bread. Set the pot to heat over a medium-high flame. According to Cook's, when the bread cube is deep golden brown the oil is at 375F, so when it's about that color, your oil is ready.

While the oil is heating, roll the chilled rice balls in flour, dip in egg and then roll in breadcrumbs. When the oil is ready, gently put the rice balls in and fry until they're golden brown on the submerged half, then flip and fry again. I repeated this process to make sure the cheese in the middle had melted. (It had, and the arancini were not burned.) Alternatively, use little cubes of melty cheese and probably one round of frying will do it.

*Note about the recipes -- I had been putting amounts in grams because that's what I've bought them in, but the amounts are mostly approximate (as you know, 500 g = about 1 lb, 750 g = about 1.5 lb), so this time I put them in pounds.

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