Asparagus and Lemon Risotto

This asparagus and lemon risotto is rich and creamy but with a bright lemon flavor.

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If you were reading the blog last summer, you probably know I’m a big fan of MasterChef, Fox’s cooking competition show for amateur home cooks. (The new season starts Monday at 8 pm EST–check it out!) Well, the cookbook from Luca Manfé, the Season 4 winner, just came out:

My Italian Kitchen, now available through Amazon and other booksellers.
My Italian Kitchen, now available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Luca was one of my favorites on the show, so I’m having a lot of fun cooking through his recipes (including some that helped him win the competition). The instructions have been simple to follow and the food I’ve made so far has been great! For instance, these roasted potatoes were spectacular:

Luca's Roasted Potatoes--the perfect contorni (side dish) to roasted chicken or a nice juicy steak.
Luca’s Roasted Potatoes–the perfect contorni (side dish) to roasted chicken or a juicy steak.

But so far my favorite dish is this Asparagus and Lemon Risotto, which Luca says is the first dish he ever cooked for his wife, Cate. (There’s a completely adorable picture of both of them on this page in the book. Too cute!) I’ve made risotto before, but clearly I wasn’t letting it achieve its full potential. Luca’s recipe, which uses almost a full stick of butter and 1 cup of cheese, blows mine out of the water (though I wouldn’t make it this way all the time!).

This asparagus and lemon risotto is rich and creamy but with a bright lemon flavor.
This asparagus and lemon risotto is rich and creamy but with a bright lemon flavor.

Here’s the recipe as I made it; check out the cookbook for the original. I didn’t have quite a full cup of rice, so I reduced some of the amounts. I also used a small Vidalia onion rather than the shallot called for in the book, which I didn’t have on hand, and Parmesan cheese rather than Grana Padano.

Asparagus and Lemon Risotto

Adapted from recipe in My Italian Kitchen by Luca Manfé

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends removed
  • 3-4 cups vegetable or chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small Vidalia onion or a large shallot, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine (I used white zinfandel)
  • 2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest (this is a bit more than you will get from one large lemon–buy two!)
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or about 4 tsp dried
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Steps

  1. Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water. Blanch the asparagus: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the asparagus. Cook for about 3 minutes, then remove the asparagus with tongs or a slotted spoon and plunge the spears into the ice bath. Cool for 1 minute, then remove and cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

    Blanch the asparagus to cook it partially and preserve its bright green color.
    Blanch the asparagus to cook it partially and preserve its bright green color.
  2. Heat the stock in a large saucepan and keep it at a low simmer.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp of butter and melt it. Add the shallot and rice and toast for about 3 minutes; if using the onion, cook it for a minute or two on its own before adding the rice. The toasted rice should be translucent around the edges.
    I didn't have a shallot on hand, but this small Vidalia onion made a fine stand in.
    I didn’t have a shallot on hand, but this small Vidalia onion made a fine stand in.
    Since I used an onion rather than a shallot, I gave it about a two-minute head start in the pan. If using a shallot, add it with the rice.
    Since I used an onion rather than a shallot, I gave it about a two-minute head start in the pan. If using a shallot, add it with the rice.
    Add the rice...
    Add the rice…

    ...and toast until it looks chalky and smells nutty, and you can see a translucent ring around the outside of each grain.
    …and toast until it smells nutty and you can see a translucent ring around the outside of each grain.
  4. Add the wine and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring constantly, until the wine has been absorbed. Reduce the heat back to medium.

    Continue to cook and stir the risotto after each addition of liquid until your spoon makes a path in the rice. Then it's time to add more stock!
    Continue to cook and stir the risotto after each addition of liquid until your spoon makes a path in the rice. Then it’s time to add more stock!
  5. Keep stirring and add stock, 1 cup at a time, as the rice absorbs it. The total cooking time will be about 20 minutes, but there are a few extra steps during this time:
    • After 5 minutes have elapsed: Add the lemon zest.
    • After 10 minutes: Add the asparagus and 1 tbsp of butter.
    • After 17 minutes: Taste the risotto–it should still be too al dente, but close to being finished. Reduce stock additions to 1/2 cup at a time.
    • After 20 minutes or so: The rice is done when it is creamy and tender, but still slightly al dente.

      Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked. You may not need all 4 cups.
      Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked. You may not need all 4 cups.
  6. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, parsley, remaining butter and Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese. Stir vigorously until the butter is all melted and the risotto is creamy. Add a little stock if it is too thick. Season with salt and pepper.

    Once the butter and cheese have melted into the rice, your risotto is done!
    Once the butter and cheese have melted into the rice, your risotto is done!

This risotto was amazing! I followed Luca’s advice (never stop stirring!) and ended up with a super creamy dish with great lemon flavor and asparagus in every bite. The risotto is pretty rich, so probably not something to eat on a regular basis–even though you might want to!

Leftover risotto? Stash it in the fridge and keep an eye out for my follow-post on what to do with risotto leftovers.

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