Creamy rice with crisp tender vegetables could be a one-pot supper, maybe with an accompanying salad, or a satisfying side dish with chicken or fish. You have to make it now while fiddleheads are available and the best tasting asparagus comes straight from the garden.
It was just about the first good batch of asparagus we’ve had so far this season. I’ve been eagerly anticipating it. And it arrived just a little later than usual, what with this chilly weather we’ve had. I always feel sorry for the bundles of asparagus I see in the grocery store produce section other times of year, especially in winter. I always wonder how long ago they were harvested, how far they had to travel, how many times each spear had to be handled twixt field and market. Each bundle features stalks identical in length and girth, but it is a different story in our patch. We get skinny ones, big fat ones and everything in between out of each gathering.
I sort them out. The skinny ones are fine for cutting into inch-long pieces and adding to salads. Chunky ones are good for roasting or grilling. Mediums are nice for steaming or sauteing in butter to relish all by themselves. For the risotto, I threw caution to the wind and chopped every stalk I had — about seven or eight — all sizes, into about inch-long pieces and tossed them all into the rice for the last few minutes of cooking. I figured some would get very soft, others would be a little crisp. That was the case, and it turned out just fine.
The fiddleheads must be cooked for about 10 minutes, so they got their due time, and I added them whole along with the asparagus.
I freely admit that I have been a risotto coward — all that stirring, gradually adding broth, achieving smooth, tender cooked rice. Practice does make perfect, and this latest batch was the best of all my efforts so far. Adding white wine definitely helps. Freshly grated parmesan is a must. A steady simmer, enough so you can see movement in the pan, ensures creaminess. The vegetables starred.
I had slightly more asparagus than fiddleheads, but it really doesn’t matter what the balance is. If you can’t get fiddleheads, make it all asparagus or vice versa. I used a shallot because I grow them, but a small onion works as well. Chicken broth is great, but if you need a vegetarian dish, use vegetable stock or miso. Arborio rice, easily found these days in grocery stores, is required, otherwise it won’t be risotto.
Asparagus and Fiddlehead Risotto
¾ pound fiddleheads and asparagus
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 cup of Arborio rice
1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
⅓ cup white wine, such as pinot grigio
Salt and pepper
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2-3 tablespoons butter
1. Steam or boil the fiddleheads for 10 minutes and set aside. Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces and set aside.
2. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep it hot.
3. Put the olive oil into a heavy bottomed cooking pot over a medium heat, and add the garlic and shallot and cook them briefly, for one or two minutes.
4. Add the rice and cook, stirring until each grain glistens with oil.
5. Add the wine and cook, stirring gently until it is mostly absorbed.
6. Making sure the stock is hot, begin adding it about ½ cup at a time, without completely covering the rice, and stirring gently. Make sure the rice keeps simmering.
7. Continue adding stock until you have added nearly all of it, and the rice is soft.
8. Add the asparagus, fiddleheads and a little more stock, and keep hot until the stock is absorbed.
9. Sample and add salt and pepper, adjusting to taste.
10. Stir in the grated parmesan and butter, and serve.