No apologies for a third helping of asparagus in the space of a month. It is the edible emblem for this moment in the year, when nature is fully back in business, something that seems particularly fitting this year – the green shoots of recovery and all that.
This is a delicate risotto, but perhaps less so than one might expect, the lemon and tarragon giving it real brightness and depth of flavour.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed of woody ends
1.5 litres good vegetable stock
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
30g cold butter, cubed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
300g risotto rice
125ml dry white wine
100g peeled brown shrimps
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, and ½ the juice
2 tbsp grated pecorino (or parmesan), plus extra to serve
A bulging handful of tarragon leaves
Nutmeg, for grating
Cut 4cm lengths from the tip of the asparagus, then slice the stems into thin disks. Put both to one side.
Heat the stock in a small saucepan and keep warm over a low heat.
In another, larger saucepan, heat the oil and half the butter, then add the onion, celery and garlic with a pinch of salt, and cook over a gentle heat for 10-12 minutes until soft, but not coloured.
Add the rice, turn up the heat a little, and stir for 2 minutes until well combined with the vegetables. Pour in the wine and stir again until the liquid has been absorbed.
Next, add a large ladleful of stock (two if your ladle is small) to the rice pan and cook over a medium heat, stirring often, until the liquid is nearly absorbed. Add a second lot of stock and again stir until absorbed. For the next 12-14 minutes, keep adding stock and letting it absorb. As you add the fourth quantity of stock, throw in the sliced asparagus stems.
After 15 minutes, add the asparagus tips, plus more stock and continue cooking and stirring until the rice grains are just al dente and the sauce around them has turned creamy. Use a splash of boiling water if the stock runs out. The end result should flow gently and slowly when you move it around the pan. It takes 17-20 minutes to get to this stage, depending on your rice, your pan and your hob.
Once the rice is cooked, vigorously stir in the lemon zest, pecorino and remaining butter. Season generously with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg.
Keep back a few of the tarragon leaves for decoration and stir the rest into the risotto with the lemon juice and three quarters of the shrimp. Leave to stand for 2-3 minutes. Taste and season again if necessary, then ladle into wide bowls. Scatter with the remaining shrimps and tarragon, add a trickle more oil, and grate over a small amount of extra pecorino. Serve immediately.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book isGood Things to Eat.