I love the surprise companions of seasonal cooking. “What grows together, goes together,” even when the results are unexpected or non-traditional. This combination of asparagus and strawberries, freshly picked at a local farm, proves the point.
When I have a bumper crop of asparagus, I save the cooking liquid and use it to cook the tough ends and peelings, if any. This results in a flavorful liquid that makes a great base for risotto, equivalent to light chicken stock. Normally, for asparagus risotto, I parboil asparagus stalks, chop them and add them to the rice when nearly cooked. This time, I lightly roasted chopped asparagus stalks in the oven with a little olive oil and salt, and added them and the raw tips at the end of the cooking time. Seasoned with Parmesan cheese, and topped with strawberries cut to the same shape as the asparagus, this was as satisfying as it was pretty.
Roasted Asparagus Risotto with Strawberries
10-12 stalks asparagus, depending on the thickness
Olive oil and/or butter (about 1 tbsp combined)
¼ c onion
1 c Arborio rice
¼ c white wine
4-5 c asparagus broth (see below) or light chicken stock
Optional: ¼ c grated Parmesan cheese (or to taste)
5-6 strawberries, sliced to the same proportion as the asparagus stalks
Prepare the asparagus. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash the asparagus thoroughly to remove any traces of sand. Snap off the ends and use them to make the asparagus broth (see below). Cut the stalks into ½-inch pieces, reserving the tips. Sprinkle the cut pieces with olive oil and salt and roast them lightly, 5 minutes or less (you want them just barely softened and slightly browned in spots).
Make the risotto. Warm the broth or stock Warm the butter or oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until translucent. Do not let them brown. Add rice and stir to coat, cooking until the surface of the grains turns white. Add the wine and stir to allow it to evaporate and also instill the ingredients with flavor. Add 1/3 cup of warm liquid, adjusting the heat to so that the liquid just simmers and stir until it is absorbed. When the liquid is absorbed, add another 1/3 cup, wait until it’s absorbed, stirring occasionally, and then repeat until the rice is tender but still al dente. This process will take about 20-25 minutes. About 5 minutes or so before the risotto is fully cooked, add the roasted asparagus stalks and the raw tips and stir to combine well. When the risotto is cooked, add the grated cheese, if using, taste for salt and adjust as needed. Garnish with strawberries. Serves 3-4.
Asparagus broth. Reserve the snapped-off ends of asparagus stalks and any peelings. You can stockpile them, well wrapped, in the refrigerator. Reserve the cooking water from batches of boiled asparagus and cook the stalk ends in it, reserving the water each time. If you’re cooking asparagus in season, you can do this over a week or so, refrigerating the liquid each time. The trimmings from a couple of bunches of asparagus will yield a good 4-5 cups of flavorful broth, enough for a good base for soup or risotto.