Finding Balance – also Asparagus Risotto with Lemon

At lunch today, Shana and I were talking about our respective cooking slumps and how hard it is for us both to find balance between work, home life, and other interests – and it occurred to me that maybe part of this slump is just my life shifting into a new balance, or back into balance period.  For the last year and a half, I’ve been totally engaged in cooking, food, gardening, etc, and part of that has been because I’ve had little else to strongly draw my focus.  These days I’m busy to the point of exhaustion between teaching and work, and I’m managing to exercise almost every day – so something’s got to give.

Shane picked me up at 5 – an hour later than I’m normally at work – and while he worked out, I made asparagus risotto from Urban Italian.  Instead of shredding, I stirred for 30 minutes.  And then ate risotto that tasted like sunshine and springtime.  And then did my best to stay awake.  I consider it a successful evening, even if I don’t manage to do anything else.

Asparagus Risotto with Lemon
Adapted from Urban Italian

5 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock
1 pound asparagus
1 generous handful fresh basil
1 generous handful parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided (1 + 2)
1/2 large Vidalia onion (about 1 cup), diced small
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup vermouth
salt and coarsely ground black pepper
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

Warm the broth in a saucepan over medium heat. In another saucepan, bring several cups of generously salted water to boil. While the liquids are heating up, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard. Cut off the bottom inch, and add to the broth. Cut off the asparagus tips about 3″ from the top and set aside. Reserve the middle portion of the stem.

When the broth nears a simmer, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat for about a minute, then add the rice and stir so that all the grains are coated in the oil and butter. Add the vermouth, mixing well and stirring frequently until the boozey smell has evaporated. Add the broth one cup at a time, setting aside the asparagus ends, stirring the rice frequently, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat this step until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is tender but not mushy, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water while keeping an eye on the pot of salted water. When it boils, add the asparagus tips and blanch for 1 minute, then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the ice water to stop cooking. Add the reserved asparagus stems and blanch for 3 minutes, then drain. Add the stalks, asparagus ends, basil, and parsley to your blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture forms a puree.

When the rice is finished cooking, stir in the asparagus puree, asparagus tips, remaining butter, lemon juice, and Parmigiano if using. The recipe as presented should make 3 entree-sized portions or 4-5 if served with a salad and a protein. We ate it right up with a fresh baguette.

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