Monday, March 22, 2010

Meyer Lemon and Asparagus Risotto

Spring has sprung in Nashville. Okay, maybe not quite, but it is trying. The sky continues to be gray and gloomy, but there are signs of hope people. Daffodils are popping up all over town and the magnolia trees that blanket the city are budding, getting ready to fill the air with their heady fragrance and beautiful color. Can you tell I like spring? And man, I am ready for it to get here in full force.

I have to believe this is what led me to jump the gun last night. By that I mean getting a little over-eager for spring produce and pretending it is asparagus season somewhere other than Mexico or Chile or maybe California. You know, somewhere like Nashville. And while the local growing season is still a few weeks away, I couldn’t resist picking up some asparagus during my last trip to the grocery store. Try as I might to buy things in season, the lure of spring asparagus was too tempting to resist. So I bought some, product of Mexico label and all.

My original plan had been to roast the asparagus. It’s my favorite was to prepare asparagus, no surprise considering my documented love of all roasted vegetables. (I’ll post my recipe for roasted asparagus in a few weeks, once asparagus is really in season.) Plans changed when I realized I did not have enough time to prepare my intended entrée/accompaniment. A little fridge and pantry raiding came up with all of the ingredients to make risotto, so I figured, why not?

I decided to pair the asparagus with some citrus for an even more spring-like flavor. I’d been trying to figure out what to do with some meyer lemons I picked up on impulse a few weeks ago, and this seemed like a great use for them. If you’ve never tried them, meyer lemons are less sour than regular lemons and have a beautiful golden-orange color. I used the zest and the juice of the lemons to perk up the flavor of the creamy rice. The asparagus provided great texture and color contrast. I have to confess, I burnt all the taste buds off my tongue while checking the rice for doneness, so I had to rely on Stan for a full review of the finished product. Happily, he said he really liked the risotto and would definitely enjoy eating it again in the future. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to fully taste and enjoy it too!

Meyer Lemon and Asparagus Risotto

Note: I wanted to include mascarpone cheese in my risotto, but my container had expired, and I was afraid to use it. The risotto was good without it, but I think the mascarpone would have added a decadent creaminess to the finished risotto. Use it if you have it, but don’t feel like you have to go out and get some just for this recipe.

2 cups asparagus, washed, tough ends removed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
Zest of one meyer lemon (or one regular lemon)
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 T. meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)
1 T. flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely shredded or grated
2 T. mascarpone cheese (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Optional garnish: thin strips of lemon zest and/or extra Parmesan cheese

Fill a large skillet or a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus pieces and cook for 2 minutes. While the asparagus cooks, prepare an ice bath (a large bowl of cold water and ice.) Remove the cooked asparagus to the ice bath to quickly stop the cooking. Set aside.

In a medium pot, bring the chicken or vegetable stock to a simmer. Keep hot, but do not allow it to boil.

In a large saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.

Add the shallots. Cook for 1 minute.

Add the rice and lemon zest. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.

Add the wine and stir until absorbed.

Begin adding the hot stock in small increments, waiting for each addition of stock to be almost completely absorbed before adding more. (Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to stir risotto constantly. You just need to stir it after each addition of stock and then occasionally between additions. Don’t go too far away, but don’t be afraid to leave the stove. Last night I unloaded the dishwasher while making my risotto, staying close enough to stir the risotto every couple of minutes.) This process should take about 20 to 25 minutes. The risotto is ready when all of the broth has been absorbed and the rice is tender but still has a small bite to it.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, parsley, and mascarpone cheese (if using).

Drain the asparagus and stir it into the risotto.

Stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately, garnished with lemon zest or extra cheese, if desired.

Serves 3 to 4 as an entrée, 6 to 8 as a side dish.

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