If I was forced to choose the top three things I love about Italy I would have to say, in no particular order, my friend Angela and her crazy funny family, risotto and prosciutto di Parma.
Well, my fondness for Angela is understandable but the rest might require some explanation. Most people, you see, are pasta freaks. They will eat past in any form or shape with any sauce imaginable. Me, I love risotto. Warm, gooey and comforting risotto is all I want when I think of cooking something quick and simple, something I can eat out of a bowl while curled up on a sofa. And donʼt even get me started on Parma ham, The love affair started a few years back when we visited…you guessed it…Parma. How can one city give the world both Parmegiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma? The two are the works of a culinary genius! Or as Jane Austin put it in one of her famous books, “A happy thought indeed”. As Iʼd mentioned previously English summers can definitely work on giving us more sunshine but there are some things this climate does well and, apparently, growing asparagus is one of them. I was happy to take full advantage of fresh English asparagus that filled the shops and vegetables stands all over the city. The season is short so I was quick to think of several ways of incorporating one of my favourite vegetables into our meals.
Fresh seasonal asparagus is so flavourful on its own you don’t even need much to make this risotto work. Feel free to skip Parma ham if you are a vegetarian. This way you can enjoy the pure, unadulterated taste of asparagus.
- Arborio Rice- 1.5 cups/400 gr
- Chicken or Vegetable Stock- 3 cups/750 ml
- Olive Oil- 2 tbsp.
- Celery- 2 stalks
- Garlic-2 cloves
- White wine (optional)-1/4 cup/75ml
- Butter- 2 tbsp.
- Parmesan Cheese (freshly grated)- 4 oz/125 gr (or to taste)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Asparagus- one bunch (10-12 stalks)
- Prosciutto Di Parma- 1 or 2 ribbons per person
Put the stock in a pot and heat it. Wash the asparagus and cut off the tips, cut the rest of the stalks crosswise in 1 cm pieces. Chop up onion, celery and garlic and saute them in olive oil in a large deep pan over slow heat for 10 minutes. Then turn the heat to medium and add rice, and fry it while stirring for 2-3 minutes, add the wine and continue stirring until the wine evaporated. Add a ladle of the stock and cook over low/medium heat until the stock is absorbed by the rice, add the chopped asparagus reserving the tips to the rice, continue adding a ladle of the stock each time you see that the liquid got absorbed by the rice, keep stirring as doing so will bring out the creaminess in rice.
While your risotto is cooking, quickly cook the asparagus tips. They will take 5-7 minutes, so arrange for both asparagus and risotto be done at approximately the same time.
When all your stock is gone taste your rice to make sure it’s cooked, if it’s not add a ladleful of water. Risotto is NOT rice pudding and shouldn’t disintegrate in your mouth. Rice just like pasta should be cooked al dente- slightly firm to the bite.
When the rice is the right texture remove it from the heat and stir freshly grated parmesan into it (not that awful pre-grated stuff), then add butter, cover with the lid and walk away for 5 minutes. I once heard that this trick is called “the risotto maker”. When you come back and take the lid off you will see the most beautiful and creamy risotto! If your risotto is cooked the right way it will ripple when you pour it into a bowl but won’t hold any shape.
Place a few asparagus spears on each plate.
Or add a Parma Ham ribbon.