Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Double asparagus risotto

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 Double asparagus risotto
This unusual risotto approach intensifies the asparagus flavor by using the same veggie to produce the cooking liquid, a bright puree and the tender tips as garnish.
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Double asparagus risotto

We're under heavy deadline pressure over here today, running behind and facing the prospect of a winter storm that we hope won't take out electrical power this afternoon or tonight, so with apologies I'll offer an abbreviated FoodLetter that draws from a couple of recent topics.

Wrapped up in this short-change package, though, is an interesting risotto tip that I came up with the other day, one that intensifies the flavor of a vegetable main player by essentially doubling its presence, using part of it as an ingredient and more of it pureed in a sauce.

The beneficiary of this treatment in today's report was a bunch of fresh, pencil-thin asparagus, a veggie that will be taking center stage again soon as spring approaches in the Northern Hemisphere. (Please hurry!) It could work very well, though, with other green-vegetable risotto bases such as fresh spinach or green peas.

I'll refer you back to my recent (Jan. 3, 2008) dissertation on veggie risotto,
for the basic risotto procedure.

Simply explained, it's a matter of sauteeing aromatics and then briefly parching rice, then stirring in liquid, a little at a time, stirring constantly and adding more liquid as needed, until the rice turns al dente tender and develops a beautiful creamy texture. The primary flavor ingredient, which could be vegetables, meat, seafood or cheese, is added during the process, varying depending on its cooking time.

(Italian Arborio or similar medium-grain rice varieties are strongly recommended, as standard long-grain rice, by its nature, won't turn creamy even if you cook it into porridge.)

Here's how today's asparagus rendition is different: The flavor of asparagus is concentrated by bring it to the recipe in three forms, and not a drop of flavor is poured out in cooking water or otherwise goes down the drain.

First, I simmered the asparagus briefly in very lightly salted water with a little garlic and fresh ginger and lemon juice to add aroma. As soon as the asparagus was crisp-tender, I lifted it out, retaining the flavorful green water (extended with more fresh water) to use as the risotto liquid.

Second, I divided the asparagus, reserving the tips and tender ends to add at the end of cooking.

Third, I used a blender to buzz the lower ends of the asparagus spears into a bright green puree, which I would stir in to the simmering rice toward the end of cooking.

Made with an othersise standard risotto procedure, the result was a risotto full of intense asparagus flavor imparted by the broth, the puree and the crisp-tender tips, all three. A dab of butter and a good spoonful of freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese to finish it off, and we had a simple vegetarian dinner so rich in flavor that there was no need for meat. And it went delightfully with a modest but flavorful white Burgundy, Domaine Alain Normand 2005 Macon La Roche Vineuse.

As I said, time constraints prevent me from presenting a full step-by-step ingredient list and procedure this week. If you're an experienced risotto maker, I think you'll find it easy to wing it based on the information I've provided. If you would like to give a try but need a little more support, I've posted this article in our FoodLovers Discussion Group, where you can post questions about it in our friendly online community:

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