When I was in Melbourne last week I paid a visit to the Queen Vic Markets. It was foodie heaven. My poor friend was forced to wait patiently while I stopped at every single stall and gawped at the produce on display. I’m surprised he didn’t sneak off and find other things to do, rather than be associated with a complete nutter. There was SO much produce, all exceedingly fresh and, well, drool-worthy. If you’ve ever crunched into an apple straight from the tree or stained your lips (and let’s be honest, half your face) red from sitting in the boughs of a mulberry tree and shoving berry after berry in your mouth, you’ll understand my (slightly strange) infatuation with fresh fruit and veg. The asparagus in particular caught my eye. There was none of that awful, woody stuff that goes tough, stringy and bitter when cooked. These were crisp, green new season shoots. I needed to get me some of them, and soon. Obviously I wasn’t going to stash them in my bag and fly them back to Sydney (though the thought did flit through my mind), instead I was able to get my hands on a bunch at the local farmers market the following Sunday.
If the asparagus ‘snaps’ rather than bends when pressure is applied to both ends of the stalk, you know it’s going to be pretty darn tasty. It added a superbly sweet, fresh taste to this risotto. Spring in a mouthful. Don’t worry the trademark creaminess is still there – just more refined! Saffron is extortionately expensive, but do invest in some for this dish – if nothing else, the colour that it gives is stunning. Risotto isn’t a dish to make if you’re strapped for time as it involves almost constant stirring. However, if you arm yourself with a glass of wine and some good music – or someone to talk to (or more common in my case, at) – the time passes quite quickly. You want to aim for just tender vegetables, so that you don’t end up with a bowl of mush. The contrast between the soft grains of rice with slightly crisp asparagus, baby peas and sweet corn is more than enough of a reward for your patience! Oh, and extra parmesan for topping is a must. Always.
Asparagus & Saffron Risotto
200g frozen peas
100g corn kernels (about one cob)
200g asparagus, trimmed and cut into 5cm lengths
Pinch saffron threads
950ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
220g (1 cup) Arborio rice
30g finely grated parmesan, plus extra for topping
20g raw pistachios, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Place the peas and asparagus in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to stand for 3 minutes then drain and set aside.
Combine the saffron and 60ml (1/4 cup) boiling water in a small bowl and leave to infuse until needed.
Pour the vegetable stock into a small saucepan, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to gentle simmer.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onion over a medium heat for three minutes, or until well softened. Tip in the rice and stir constantly for 2 minutes or until most of the grains have gone transparent.
Add half a cup of hot stock to the rice mixture and stir constantly over a low-medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue in this fashion until about half of your simmering stock has been used. Now add the saffron strands and infused water and stir until absorbed. Continue with the remaining simmering stock. After you have tipped in the last ½ cup and most has been absorbed, add the peas, asparagus and corn. Cover the rice saucepan, turn off the heat and leave the pot on the burner for ten minutes or until the rice is tender. Stir every two minutes or so to prevent sticking. Stir through the grated parmesan and season with a decent amount of salt and pepper.
Serve topped with the chopped pistachios and extra parmesan.
Source: Heavily adapted from Vegetarian Cooking: A Common Sense Guide