The weather is warming up, baby birds are chirping in my backyard, and my kids are begging to go to the pool. It is once again officially Spring. And, if I needed yet another reminder that Winter is over, I was met with piles of lush green asparagus last weekend at the farmer's market. After making my purchase, my mind whirled with the array of dishes I could make. Should I grill them and top with a fresh lemon and olive oil dressing, or maybe lightly sauté and serve with pasta? How about a creamy green soup? Or maybe a tart?
My musings were nothing new for me (as I'm constantly trying to dream up something interesting for both my family and this blog) or for asparagus itself. You see, as young and fresh as asparagus seems each spring, it's been served on dinner tables for thousands of years. It is even discussed in Apicius, a book of recipes dating back to ancient Rome. Back then, it was considered a delicacy. According to the directions in Apicius, each stalk was supposed to be "peeled, washed and dried and immersed in boiling water backwards." The preparation is a bit meticulous for my tastes. I'm not one to peel my asparagus and am hardly fussy enough to lay each stalk into a pot "backwards." Yet the dish sounds like something I'd enjoy eating nonetheless. And those Romans were right to love those green spears. Full of calcium, magnesium and folic acid, not to mention vitamins A, C and E, asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse.
So what did I make with my first asparagus purchase of the season? Well, I decided to try something completely different -- at least it was unusual for me, but after 2,000 years or more at the dinner table, I am under no illusions that I am the first to make it. I was thinking of making asparagus with pasta, but when I opened the pantry found an unopened box of risotto sitting prominently on the shelf. It had been ages since I made risotto and the idea of buttery rice with the earthy flavor of spring asparagus sounded wonderful to me. Plus my daughter Maddie had lost two teeth earlier that day and could barely chew, so the forgiving texture of rice seemed perfect.
But then I started to wonder how the risotto would taste if the asparagus were pureed into a béchamel sauce which was then added in. After imagining the dish, I knew I had to try it and was glad I did. The béchamel added a wonderful creaminess to the risotto while the pureed asparagus spears gave it a mild and intriguing flavor. Topped off with more asparagus that had been chopped and sautéed in olive oil and lemon zest, the dish highlighted the natural verdant taste of spring while also providing a comforting warmth.
Here's my recipe for Green Risotto with Asparagus, followed by instructions for making croquettes the next day with leftovers. Covered with panko and then fried in olive oil, the croquettes were crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. So whether you make risotto, croquettes, or something entirely different, just be sure to take advantage of one of this season's oldest stars.
Green Risotto with Asparagus
Makes: 4 servings
1 1/2 cups risotto
4-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (warmed)
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot minced
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp milk
1 cup whole milk plus 2 Tbsp
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
15 medium asparagus
Zest from one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a medium sauce pan and sauté minced shallots for 1 minute.
2. Add risotto and stir until fully incorporated.
3. Pour in 1/2 cup broth and mix thoroughly. When liquid is absorbed, continue adding 1/2 cup broth to the rice and stirring until absorbed. Do this until the rice is al dente (meaning it's cooked through but not mushy). I ended up using around 4 cups of broth but you may need more. Be sure to continually stir so you don't scorch the rice at the bottom of the pan.
4. Add the wine (if using) and add season with salt and pepper. Turn off the burner.
5. Meanwhile, mince 7 asparagus and sauté in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a separate sauce pan for 2 minutes. Remove from pan and blend with 2 Tbsp milk until pureed.
6. In the same sauce pan that you used to cook the minced asparagus, melt the butter and then add in the flour to create a roux. Stir in milk and heat on medium low until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add salt and pepper to taste and then add in the pureed asparagus. Your sauce will now be green.
7. Roughly chop the remaining asparagus and sauté in a separate pan in olive oil (about 1 Tbsp) with the lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste.
8. Add the green sauce to the risotto and mix thoroughly. Incorporate 1 cup Parmesan cheese and stir.
9. Spoon risotto onto plates and top with cooked asparagus and lemon zest.
Green Risotto Croquettes
Makes: 4 - 6 croquettes
1 cup leftover Green Risotto
1 egg beaten
1 cup panko or dried bread crumbs
olive oil for frying
1. Beat egg in a medium bowl and set aside. Place panko in a flat plate.
2. Drizzle a pan with olive oil (I like to use my cast iron) and heat to medium high.
3. Spoon a golf-ball sized amount of rice into your hand and then flatten into a round disk. Dip into the egg and then the panko, coating it thoroughly. Do this until all the risotto is gone.
4. Lay croquettes into the hot oil and saute on each side until golden brown.
5. Serve with grilled asparagus or a salad.