Asparagus Risotto

– 1 bunch asparagus
– 1 large leek (or white or yellow onion, diced)
– 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
– 4 garlic cloves, rough chopped, or 2 stalks spring garlic, chopped
– 1 cup arborio rice
– 1/4 cup white wine, optional
– 3 1/2 cups hot vegetable broth
– 1/2 cup basil or parsley leaves
– 1 lemon, zest and juice to taste
– 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
– 1/4 teaspoon pepper

  1. Bring a small pot of salted water to boil on the stove to blanch asparagus.
  2. Prep the asparagus: Cut the fibrous ends off the asparagus and discard. (You can tell where this is by breaking an end off with your fingers, usually about an inch from bottom- and using this as a guide, cut the rest to match. Toss all the fibrous ends.) Cut the pretty tips off (about 1 1/2 inches) and set them aside. Cut the “middles” into 1-inch pieces. Take 1 1/2 cups of the “middles” and set aside (to blanch and blend into a creamy asparagus sauce) which we will stir into the risotto at the end to give it its beautiful vibrant color and creamy texture. Add any remaining “middles” to the tips pile and keep these set-aside. So you’ll have two piles of asparagus, 1 1/2 cups of the “middles” and one with the tips and leftover middles.
  3. Make the asparagus puree: In a small pot of boiling water, blanch the 1 1/2 cups of asparagus “middles” (without the tips) until tender and vibrant, about 5 minutes, depending on size. Drain, and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Place both in the blender. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and basil leaves and blend until silky smooth. (Alternatively, use an immersion blender.) Set this aside to add to the risotto at the end.
  4. Start Risotto: Thinly slice leeks into half-moons, and rinsing away any dirt, strain. (Rinsing will also help prevent them from scorching.) Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add leeks and garlic and saute until softened and fragrant.
  5. Add arborio rice and stir to coat, one minute. Deglaze with white wine (if using) and cook the wine  off. Add 1 cup hot veggie broth, scraping up any browned bits, bring to a gentle simmer, over medium-low heat stirring occasionally, letting the rice absorb all the broth.
  6. Continue adding the hot broth 1 cup at a time, letting the rice absorb it slowly, each time, stirring often. ***At the same time that you add the last cup of broth, add the fresh asparagus tips, letting them cook in the risotto for 3 minutes or so. At this point, rice should be creamy yet slightly al dente.
  7. Combine: Stir in blended asparagus “puree”, add the salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and taste. Adjust salt, pepper and lemon to taste. (Pecorino will add more depth and flavor here.) Heat gently over low heat, letting it thicken a bit if you like, but take care not to cook too long here, or you’ll lose the vibrant color.
  8. Divide among bowls, garnish with pecorino cheese, lemon zest and chili flakes or a drizzle of the optional leek oil.