I always feel a little lazy when I send out a variation on a theme we've done before, but enough of you requested the recipe for the asparagus risotto that I mentioned in Monday's Wine Advisor that I hope you won't object to a variation on this familiar Italian-style rice dish.
Risotto is one of my favorite quick dinners - a term that may sound contradictory because it requires almost constant attention. But when you get organized and do all your preparation before you start to cook, you'll find that you can go from a standing start to dinner in 45 minutes or less.
I'll summarize the process in today's recipe. If you want detailed instructions on the risotto procedure, check our first FoodLetter issue, "Risotto Pescatore," at
The variation that makes this one unusual, as I said Monday, is that I started with a simple asparagus risotto, a dish that almost demands a white wine, but added red-wine-friendly ingredients to the mix - tomatoes, beef broth, cheese - to make the dish hearty enough to go with the red wine that I wanted to taste that day.
Here's the way it went. If you have other tricks or tips for "upgrading" lighter dishes so they'll stand up to a red, please let me know (E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org), and I'll collect them for a future article.INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
8 ounces fresh asparagus spears
1 medium-size fresh tomato
Red onion, enough to make about 1/4 cup chopped
Large clove of garlic
Dried red pepper flakes to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces (1/2 cup) Arborio, Carnaroli or other short-grain risotto rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup of the water you used to steam the asparagus, reserved
2 to 3 cups beef broth
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1. Remember, prepare all your ingredients and get them organized before you start cooking. Once you're busy stirring the risotto, you don't want to have to stop to chop an onion. So, first chop the onion roughly, peel and chop the tomato (it's worth the effort to remove the peel, which will turn into ugly papery shreds if you cook it in the dish), mince the garlic, and cut the asparagus into 1-inch lengths, setting the spear points aside separately.
2. Bring 2 cups lightly salted water to the boil in a small saucepan and cook the asparagus (except the spear points) for about 7 minutes or until tender but still a bit crisp. Drain through a strainer, taking care to reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. By using it as part of the risotto-cooking liquid, you'll end up with more asparagus flavor in the dish.
3. Got everything ready? Now it's time to start cooking. Put a heavy saucepan on the front burner, and another on the back burner behind it. Bring the beef broth to a simmer in the back pot. In the front pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and cook the garlic, onions and red-pepper flakes in it until the vegetables are translucent. (Don't overdo the pepper flakes. You want a hint of heat as a condiment, but not a fiery dish.)
4. When the garlic is ready, stir in the rice, stirring for a moment or two until every grain is coated with olive oil and a few grains start looking "toasty." Then put in the white wine (don't have your face over the pot when you do this, as a burst of hot steam may come up), and stir until the wine is almost all evaporated. Then turn the heat down to medium and add the reserved asparagus water, about a half-cup at a time (I use a ladle for quick-and-easy measurement), stirring constantly and adding more liquid as the liquid in the pot dries up, as in the standard risotto process.
5. After you've been cooking for about five minutes, add the tomatoes and any accumulated juice, and continue stirring. After another five, add the asparagus stalks. When you run out of asparagus liquid, switch over to the beef broth. It should take about 20 to 25 minutes to reach the "al dente" point where the rice is tender but not mushy; as you approach the end, add liquid in smaller batches, and when you're almost done, add the asparagus spear points. When you're finished, stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano (or other Italian grating cheese), check seasonings and add salt if necessary, and serve.
OPTIONS: If I had wanted an even more hearty wine match, I might have added a ration of cooked Italian sausage or minced beef toward the end of cooking. If you prefer to go meatless, a good golden vegetable broth made with plenty of carrots and onions would serve.
WINE MATCH: The finished dish was a good match with the wine I had chosen, Laurel Glen 2000 REDS California Red Table Wine,
It would work as well with just about any Mediterranean-style red, from Spain to Southern France to Italy - a simple Chianti would have been fine.
In an E-mail comment on my mention of Pinot Noir with salmon in Monday's Wine Advisor, reader Carl Fagerskog offered another suggestion.
"Red wine is a passion around our house and we drink it with almost everything we prepare for dinner," he said. "Salmon is one dish that, as you pointed out, is a perfect match with a good Pinot Noir.
"However, Zinfandel is our favorite red, so I like to prepare thick salmon filets by rubbing them lightly with olive oil and garlic an hour of so before I barbecue them in a covered Weber Kettle. Salmon cooks very quickly this way and the covered barbecue keeps the meat moist. The garlic gives the fish a hearty, delicious taste that's perfect with a good, complex Zin. Karly Warrior Fires is one excellent match we love. Some of the over-extracted in-your-face wines that seem to be proliferating these days overwhelm just about any food, especially salmon."
That's excellent advice, and I can hardly wait to try it. As noted below, I always appreciate hearing from readers, so if any of these articles inspires you to send in a comment, question or even a recipe, please read on ...Let us hear from you!
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