Early Days: Local Asparagus with Risotto

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It has been too cold for the local asparagus. But they are coming (Yakima purple has just arrived), and the cold has thickened them a bit. Make a risotto, using the trimmings for a quick stock, some spring peas, good pecorino cheese, a finely chopped yellow onion and five or six stalks of this new asparagus. It will only be here until the end of May.

Cut the stalk ends, then trim the new end of the stalk with a carrot peeler, and save all the cuttings. Heat some chopped onion in olive oil, add the trimmings, some water to fill, cover and bring to a slow boil, for 20 minutes. This will be your stock for the risotto. Strain and then keep it on low.

Cut the lovely tips from the asparagus and dice the rest. Sauté a little more onion, this time in butter, and add the diced pieces, for seven minutes, stirring.

Now start the risotto, with more butter, in a strong pan, heating first the rest of the finely chopped onion, stirring to soften, not brown. Add a cup of rice  (for 2-3 people), stir to coat for a few minutes, then a half cup of white wine, letting it cook away as it clears the pan. Now start adding the stock, a ladle at a time. Always stirring. Risotto takes about 18 minutes — not 15 and not 25, one is too fast and one too slow. (They say, make risotto when you can smile).

After 8 minutes, add the diced asparagus pieces and keep on. Your job is to stir, deep and slowly, always adding stock at the first sign of the rice sticking. Add the peas and the tips to the stock, so they will be cooked and ready. 

Grate the pecorino cheese (parmesan is of course also brilliant, but for this dish, the pecorino is creamier). When the risotto is done, turn off the heat, cover for a minute. Take your tips and peas out, they are ready. Pull some cold butter and stir pieces into the risotto, stir and stir, then some grated cheese, stir, then some salt, your first salt, and taste. Stir the tips and peas in, salt a bit more, add some stock if it seems too dry. Then serve, with more grated cheese on top, into heated bowls. Save any leftover stock for reheating the risotto for a brilliant lunch.

The asparagus of spring 2022.

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Peter Miller is an architect and the proprietor of Peter Miller Books in Pioneer Square. His book "How to Wash the Dishes" written with wife Colleen has just been published.

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