Spring is here and in full force in California! I'm really not rubbing it in, just rejoicing. See, I’m not a cold weather, gray sky, rainy day kind of person. I look at winter as a necessary evil in the circle of the seasons, one I wish lasted only a month. Grumpy the entire winter, I snarl at those people who claim to "love the rain and cold weather, cuddled up, sitting by the fire...blah, blah, blah." What is fun about short sunless days, barren trees, and freezing temperatures?
After a month of shivering under layers of clothes, being pelted by rain and ruining outfits and shoes because some car decided I looked better wearing muddy water than the street did, I'm crying for longer brighter days, blossoms, tulips and warmer weather. (Could you imagine if I lived where it really got cold--rarely below 40F here--and snowed?!!) No more whining from me because spring is here.....finally. We’ve had a full week of warm weather, and sunny days with daylight lasting past 7pm.
The weather and temperature aren’t the only reasons I look forward to spring. There’s also the food, especially asparagus. I can’t tell you why I love it so, I just do. Maybe it’s the color that reminds me the earth is coming back to life from its wintry death. It's my favorite spring vegetable food, and I’ve been known to eat only roasted asparagus for lunch and dinner throughout its short season. Once, while eating my asparagus meal, one of my Atkins-loving friends told me I didn’t have any protein on my plate. I said nothing, got up, got some Parmesan cheese, grated it over my roasted asparagus, smiled, and continued feasting. I don't think that's what she meant, but it left her with no comeback, and I finished my asparagus in peace.
Aspragus is popular and even celebrated in Italy, where there are green, white and even purple varieties of asparagus. In Bassano del Grappo, near Venice, they celebrate white asparagus in a yearly festival lasting several weeks. Restaurants showcase their latest asparagus creations, some with all asparagus courses--including dessert. There are parties, tastings, and competitions.
To celebrate the gorgeous weather and my own love for this spring vegetable, I made an asparagus and lemon risotto. And, in case you, or a nagging pro-protein friend, are concerned, you have all food groups in this one dish....veggies, starch, fat, protein (the Parmesan), and the lemon adds a little fruit. I'm going to sit out in the sun, smell the flowers, think of Italy, and enjoy my risotto agli asparagi e limone. Hope you do the same and have a happy spring Friday everyone!
What is your favorite spring dish? Your favorite asparagus or risotto dish?
Lemon Asparagus Risotto
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)
About 1 pound (500 g) asparagus, the tough ends removed
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion or half a medium-sized onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
2 1/4 cups (400 g) Arborio rice
About 5 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup (35 ml) lemon juice
3 tablespoons lemon zest, plus more for garnish
1 cup (125 g) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
In a large saucepot, bring about 4 cups of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus. Bring back to a boil and cook 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Remove the asparagus from the water and drop into cold water to stop the cooking. Remove, drain and slice into 3/4-inch pieces. Set the asparagus tops to the side.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, then turn down to simmer. In a sauté pan, over medium heat, heat half the butter and the olive oil. Add the onions and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and sweat about 3 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat each kernel with some of the fat. Add the remaining salt and toast the rice for about 3 minutes; the edges of the rice should be translucent.
One ladle at a time, add the stock. Over medium-low heat, gently stir the stock into the rice. Once the rice has absorbed all the stock, add another ladle. (If you run the spoon through the rice, you will be left only with a creamy residue; this is how you know the rice is ready for more stock.) Continue this process for about 12 minutes.
Add the sliced asparagus, except for the tops, to the rice mixture, and continue adding ladles of stock for about 3 minutes more, until the rice is al dente. Before adding the last ladle of stock to the rice mixture, add the lemon juice to it to heat the lemon juice. Add the heated stock and lemon juice to the rice. Add the lemon zest and stir, evenly incorporating it throughout the rice. Turn off the heat. Add the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese. Taste and add more salt, if necessary. Before serving, garnish with the asparagus tops, grated Parmesan cheese, and lemon zest. Buon Appetito!