One of my favorite "bridge meals" from Winter into Spring is the humble Risotto alla Principessa. You really only need your base ingredients (rice, onion, garlic and stock), some lemon, a good parmesan and nutty-tasting, tender Spring asparagus. And fortunately for us, Mother Nature is cooperating on the asparagus.
The northern Italian dish of rice, asparagus and cheese is one of those subtle, classic dishes that focuses on good ingredients, simplicity and method. The naturally creamy, light and lemony risotto is the perfect meal for when you're feeling warm in spirit, but still need that certain something to take the chill off the bones.
- Arborio or Carnaroli Rice 2 cups
- Chicken Stock 4 cups
- Dry White Wine 2 cups
- Onion, small dice 1 small
- Garlic cloves, whole 2 ea.
- Bay leaf 1 ea.
- Butter and Olive oil 4 oz. combined
- Asparagus, chopped on a bias 1# (bunches are usually 2#)
- Grana Padana or Reggiano Parmesan 2 cups
- Salted Butter, cold and diced 1 cup
- Lemon Zest 1 ea.(microplaned is best)
- Fresh Herbs, i.e. basil or chives, chopped 2 tablespoons
- Warm the oil and butter in a sauce pot. Add the minced onion and garlic cloves. Cook until tender, but not browned.
- Stir in the rice until coated with oil and butter. Add the bay leaf.
- Add the white wine and stir until the wine has dissolved.
- Add the chicken stock 2 cups at a time, constantly stirring over medium heat.
- You may need to add more stock, but when the rice grains have begun to "pop", add your asparagus and continue to stir on medium to low heat until the rice is no longer "al dente" (sticks to the teeth). By this point, the asparagus will have finished cooking. At once, add the herbs, cheese, lemon zest and butter. Season with salt and pepper until you taste all the ingredients, not just one or two. Add more of anything you think it needs to taste "finished". All the colors should be bright and vibrant, not dull.
- Pancetta or Bacon- add finely diced cured ham at the first stage, with the onions.
- Peas or Favas- in place of the asparagus, quickly blanch your beans or peas and add when it calls for the asparagus.
- Shrimp or Fish- adding a protein like shrimp or scallops enriches this dish; sear some of that precious bass and serve atop the finished risotto.
- Change your Cheese- in place of parmesan, switch it up and add some creamy goat cheese, mascarpone or tangy pecorino.
- Go Decadent- atop any of these iterations, loft a soft-poached egg.