Sunday, March 8, 2009

Champagne Risotto with Leeks and Asparagus

Nine years ago, along with several of my girlfriends, I took a cooking class on Risotto. I'd always wanted to learn to make risotto but was reluctant because all I ever heard was how difficult it was to make.

If someone were to ask me if risotto is difficult to make, I would say it is not. However, I do feel it is one of those dishes that takes time and TLC. For me, risotto is total comfort food. In traditional Italian restaurants, risotto is served prior to the main course. I prefer to serve it as the main course. This particular risotto recipe is meatless which for some, like my husband, disqualifies it as a main dish.

The key to great risotto is the rice. Superfino Arborio is what is used most often to make excellent risotto. It has the longest, fattest grain, the characteristic white kernel in the centerand a capacity to absorb liquid.

Choose a heavy pot with a stainless steel interior. The pot should have sides at least 4" high with a surface area that is not too wide, which would cause the liquid to evaporate too quickly. Assemble all of your ingredients ahead of time so you can tend to the pot as the risotto cooks. Your liquid should be heated to a simmer prior to starting your risotto.

Champagne Risotto with Leeks and Asparagus

1 pound asparagus. Trim ends. Cut into thirds.
(I prefer to cut the aspargus into smaller pices)
2 leeks.
(Cut the leeks just below the dark green part. A leek has a lot of layers on the inside. These layers have sandy grit and dirt between them. You have to wash a leek well. If you are going to cut the leaks into rings or small strips, do that first, and then put them in a bowl of cool water.)
1 shallot, peeled and chopped.
6 Tablespoons butter, olive oil can be substituted but butter is preferred.
1 quart of Chicken Stock
1/2 bottle of Champagne
2 cups arborio rice
Salt, Pepper
1/2 cup - 1 cup parmesano reggiano, freshly grated

1. Heat stock and 1/2 bottle of champagne in a separate pot. When simmering, begin the risotto.
2. In the saucepan you are using for the risotto, saute shallots and leeks in 3 Tablespoons butter until opaque and bright green. Approximately 3 minutes.
3. Add rice and continue to saute for 3 minutes. Stirring frequently.
4. Begin adding stock, 1 ladle at a time. Stirring frequently. When liquid is almost all absorbed, add the next ladle of stock. (Correct heat is very important in making risotto. It should be very lively but if it is too hot the liquid will evaporate too quickly and the rice won't cook evenly.)
5. Continue this process until the rice is al dente and most of the stock is incorporated. This will take about 20 - 25 minutes. Stir when adding each ladle of sauce.
6. Add asparagus pieces. Taste. Adjust seasonings and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Asparagus should be just tender and bright green.
(I always feel that it needs salt)
7. Rice should be creamy and soft in texture and al dente.
8. Finish with remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and parmesano.
9. Stir and serve immediately.

Risotto cannot be prepared ahead of time. It cannot be reheated. I make risotto cakes out of my leftovers. I flour my hands and make small risotto cakes. I dip the cakes in an egg wash and then flour. Heat olive oil in a skillet, cook the cakes until golden brown and hot.

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