[A six-course meal concentrate – Asparagus, pea and lemon risotto]

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I like to throw dinner parties from time to time and while some manage to produce the most delicate food to feed their hungry friends, I find it somewhat difficult to create a six-course meal effortlessly.
Definitely not the domestic goddess you’d expect to find in me, aren’t I’m right?

Sure, I love to plan elaborate menus, but then, days pass by and I suddenly freak out when finding out that yes, today is the eight of July and that yes it’s the day friends are supposed to be coming over – at least that’s what the embossed invitation cards said.
I can remember birthdays of folks I was in maternelle with, but I can’t remember that I invited friends for dinner. There seems to be a problem somewhere.

Over the years, this flaw of mine has made risotto my NBF (new best friend).
When it comes to dinner parties, risottos have many many many advantages; so many in fact, that it would be useless to list them. But, well, I made clear that I am useless –too – in some ways, so here I go.
First, it can feed a whole lot of starving and on-the-way-to-get-slightly-too-drunk friends for very little effort. Wait, it might sound like I don’t want to put endeavour in the food I cook for the people I cherish the most; I might not be a perfect hostess but I do have my qualities and good food is part of them. This brings us to the second – and very important – advantage of risottos, which is the fact that they’re downright delicious. Well, that’s unless your friends don’t like rice, but then they wouldn’t be your friends, right? I have friends who don’t like coconut or prawns, I even have a friend who hates both, but as long as she likes rice, I’m fine with it. I’m not *that* picky!
The third thing I love about risotto is how versatile it is. Feel bouncy, go for a citrus risotto; more in a cosy mood, a comforting mushroom risotto will do just fine.

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So, this might explain why I’ve developed a strong and reliable risotto recipe I could play around. I thought I had the recipe, you know, the one I was going to keep secret for years and then nicely pass down to my great-grand-children. I was proved wrong.
As I was reading Leith’s vegetarian bible and sticking small pieces of paper in between every other page to bookmark recipes I should try (can you believe I retained more than 200 recipes, but that’s another story), I stumble upon a recipe that immediately appealed to me.
Asparagus, pea and lemon risotto.
I first thought I would twist my base recipe to get the same result. This was before I actually started reading the ingredients list. That recipe called for mascarpone cheese – what a brilliant idea. At that exact moment, I got besotted. I had to try it.

Asparagus, pea and lemon risotto
Adapted from Leith’s vegetarian bible (p. 364).

This risotto is one of my latest food discoveries and definitely a keeper. I’m now close to becoming a mascarpone-cheese-in-risottos addict.
More seriously, this dish is everything you want a risotto to be. It’s full of flavours, it’s creamy, it’s a undemanding. In one word, perfect.

I know, that September isn’t exactly the season for asparagus but I had lovely frozen ones, which were hand-picked last May, sitting in my freezer.
I love how the citrusy note, brought by both lemon juice and zest, complements the slight sweetness of asparagus and peas.
I’m not going to talk about what a wonderful addition the mascarpone is, as it could get on the very-long side; but well, if you have to remember obly one thing from this, make it the mascarpone.

Asparagus, pea and lemon risotto

serves 4

340g asparagus
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
55g butter
one large onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, grated
340g arborio rice
150ml dry white wine
110g fresh peas
grated zest and juice of one lemon
55g grated parmesan cheese
200g mascarpone cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim the woody stalks from the asparagus and cut the spears into 5cm long pieces.
Bring the stock to the boil, and cook the asparagus for 3 minutes or until just cooked.

Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-based pan. Stir in the sliced onion and cook over low heat for 8 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes. Stir in the rice until coated. After 2 or 3 minutes it will begin to look translucent. Add wine, keeping on stirring as it hits the pan. Once the wine seems to have cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer. Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring and allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next.
When half the stock has been added, stir in the peas and continue to add the stock until the rice is cooked and creamy.
Add the lemon zest and juice, parmesan and mascarpone. Stir well and season to taste. Gently mix in the asparagus, keeping aside 8 spears for presentation.
Serve into bowls or plates and arrange the reserved asparagus on top.