Risotto has somehow been lumped with a reputation as being difficult when in truth there is barely an easier, more comforting meal to prepare. And as for it requiring a lot of time and patience, a simple risotto is usually ready in just over half an hour. I keep Carnaroli (rice) as a staple ingredient, and risotto is a favourite weeknight meal. The base is always the same; soffritto cooked slowly; rice then wine then hot stock added; and finally a vigorous whisk of butter and often cheese (known as the ‘mantecato’). It’s the perfect vehicle for seasonal eating; radicchio, artichokes or foraged mushrooms in Autumn; pumpkin, cauliflower, or pork sausage with fennel seeds in winter; tomato and seafood in summer; and of course risotto primavera – by its very name – the epitome of spring.
One of my favourite things is asparagus, and though it seems to be available almost year-round, the true time for it is but a few precious fleeting weeks in spring when it sits side-by-side fresh peas and broad beans at the farmers’ market. It is then (now) that I crave risotto primavera.
I like my spring vegetables vibrant green and with quite a lot of crunch, but if you’d rather a more nursery softness, add them earlier in the cooking process noting that the rice should take around 17-19 minutes to cook.
Serves 2 as a main, or 3 to 4 as a starter or side
500ml home-made chicken or vegetable stock
30ml extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, very finely diced
1 garlic clove, very finely diced
160g risotto rice (such as Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
160ml dry white wine
350g (2 bunches) asparagus, woody ends discarded, cut into 2cm pieces
1 small zucchini, sliced in half lengthways and cut into 2-3mm thick half moons
350g fresh peas (to yield roughly 1 cup podded peas)
30g unsalted butter
50g Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, freshly grated plus extra to serve
Fresh mint, torn, to serve (optional)
Pour stock into a small saucepan and keep it simmering gently as you cook the risotto.
Heat extra virgin olive oil in a medium, heavy-based saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (I use a 24cm round Le Creuset). Add shallot and garlic, season with a little pinch of sea salt and a few twists of freshly ground black pepper, and cook very gently until soft and transparent (about 10 minutes). Increase heat, add rice and another little pinch of sea salt, and stir to coat each grain with oil. Continue stirring and toast rice until fragrant and translucent (1-2 minutes), then add wine and allow it to evaporate. Reduce heat and add a ladle of hot stock. Keep the heat so that the rice and stock are simmering just barely and cook for about 15-16 minutes, stirring every few minutes and adding more stock by the ladleful as it is absorbed by the rice.
Taste the risotto and check the seasoning - the rice will still have quite a bit of 'bite' at this stage. Add asparagus and cook for about one minute, add peas and cook for another 30 seconds, then add zucchini and cook until the vegetables are bright green and the rice is just-cooked (about 1-2 minutes). Again, check the seasoning. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and cheese with vigour, cover with a lid and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes before serving topped with torn fresh mint and a little bowl of extra cheese.
C(h)ook’s notes –
- If you run out of stock towards the end of cooking the risotto it is fine to use a little boiling water
- For a little luxury, try whisking in a couple of dollops of mascarpone instead of the butter
- For freshness, I sometimes add a squeeze of lemon and/or finely grated un-waxed lemon rind
- This is lovely garnished with zucchini flower petals or a few crispy slices of prosciutto
- Yes, you can use frozen peas and shop-bought stock, but no, the end-result won't be the same