30 April 2009

Harbinger of spring to come

Spring has finally arrived in the Northeast. YES. Even though the temperature is only in the 50s today, it's been raining on and off, spring is here to stay. See, I had intended to pop in and out of the Farmer's Market today, only for some mushrooms. I did a few other errands first, including picking up some buttons (which, by the way, are completely gorgeous--who knew buttons could be so lovely?). By the time I emerged from the subway, it had started to rain. But then, right across from the exit was a stand full of asparagus. Asparagus! From New York! So far, the only asparagus I've seen has been from California or Mexico, so the sight of the reaching, beseeching, lovely stems was a welcome sight. Who cares about rain when there is fresh lovely bright asparagus to be had?

Looking around, it was also clear that the spring harvest had begun, in earnest. Cucumbers as long as my arm, fresh herbs, salad greens, fresh spinach, even. After weeks of hoping and dragging my bags down to Union Square and seeing only sad, repeated offerings of potatoes, onions, carrots and wintered-over apples, green produce is a welcome sight, indeed.

As for the asparagus? What's not to like? It's such a versatile vegetable, and everything is possible: roasted, soups, braises... you name it. But I like to showcase it in risotto, something I discovered last spring. Peel some, chop it up, and stir it into some lovely, creamy risotto in the making, add a splash of lemon juice or zest if you have one lying around, and it's the perfect harbinger of spring to come. It's also the perfect dish when you're thinking about how great it would be not to go to the store because you are too busy enjoying the sun. At least, that's my opinion.

Asparagus and Pea Risotto

1/2 pound asparagus, woody stem removed, and peeled and cut into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced fine
1 1/2 cup arborio rice (or whatever you use for risotto)
4-5 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/2 cup white wine or light beer
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Do your best not to let them brown. Add the rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Meanwhile bring stock to a boil and then turn off heat; let sit. Also, blanch your peas in a small pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Pour in wine or beer to rice, stirring often, until it is all absorbed. Add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring occasionally. When the rice starts to get thick, pour in another 1/2 cup of the broth and add some salt (how much depends on the saltiness of the stock; if you don't know how salty your stock is, add just a little and add more later on). Keep adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, every time the rice thickens. Do not let the rice dry out.

3. After about 12 minutes, stir in the asparagus. Cook for 10 more minutes, and add peas. Cook until the rice is tender but still has a firm core, about 20-30 minutes in all. When the rice is just about done, add the last tablespoon butter, and shower the rice with cheese. Stir vigorously to release the starch in the rice. Taste for salt, adding more as needed. Turn of the heat and let sit 2 minutes before serving.

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