Seasonal ingredient Partner asparagus with creamy risotto
Like making pastry or soufflés, risottos are one of those things that home cooks get a little nervous about.
The success of the perfect risotto is very much down to the type of rice you use.
For years, I followed recipes that recommended Arborio rice, but I found this type of short-grain rice had a tendency to overcook and get too sticky as the starch is released.
Now, I tend to use Carnaroli, which seems to retain its bite and cooks evenly without the grains of rice sticking together too much and looking like rice pudding.
Of course, it's personal preference and you could also try to find Vialone Nano, which is slightly smaller and cooks in less time, but you may have to go to a specialist shop or deli as supermarkets don't tend to stock it.
Italian chef Diego da Re, pictured right, is the chef and owner of Clifton restaurant Prosecco and what he doesn't know about making risotto probably isn't worth knowing.
He serves seasonal risottos in his restaurant and this month it is asparagus and artichoke topped with smoked mozzarella cheese.
Diego has firm ideas about what makes a perfect risotto and he likes to dispel what he calls "urban myths" that surround this Italian staple.
These include sweating the shallots in oil rather than butter and making sure the rice is covered in stock throughout, rather than adding small spoonfuls at a time.
He also, quite rightly, refuses to add cream at the end, preferring lots of grated Parmesan to achieve the risotto's essential creamy texture.
Risotto with asparagus, artichoke and scamorza (smoked mozzarella)
1 bunch of asparagus
4 globe artichokes
glass of white wine (soave or chenin blanc)
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
300-350g arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano rice
1 smoked mozzarella or smoked Cheddar, diced
Cook the artichokes for about 20 minutes in simmering, salted water with a squeeze of lemon juice and a bay leaf, then cook the asparagus. Some of the water will become the stock to cook the rice.
Remove the vegetables when tender. Keep the asparagus spears and some petals and the meaty bottoms of the artichoke and set aside. All the other bits can go back into the stock. Let it simmer for a bit and then taste it. If more flavour is needed, add some vegetable stock cubes but remember to sieve it.
In a large pan, gently sweat the garlic and shallot in olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the rice and cook gently. When the rice is warm but not hot, pour in the wine and let the alcohol burn off.
Add enough stock to keep the rice covered at all times, then keep stirring. Cook for about 15 minutes and taste for seasoning and the texture of the rice – it should still have a bite to it but not taste chalky.
When it is cooked, add a knob of butter and a handful of grated Parmesan. Add a bit more stock if required but it should not be too liquid. Good risotto should have a soft, creamy texture.
Cover and allow to rest off the heat for three to four minutes. Meanwhile, warm up your reserved asparagus tips and the artichoke bottoms and petals, and season in butter.
To serve, place a ladle of risotto in a bowl or on a plate, garnish with the hot vegetables and scatter the cheese on top. Scatter with your favourite fresh herb – mint or flat-leaf parsley work well here.
Diego da Re is the chef and owner of Prosecco, 25 The Mall, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4JG. Tel: 0117 973 4499. www.proseccoclifton.com.