Asparagus and Artichoke Risotto

Recipe contributed by Sarah Jane Green; photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser Yield:  4 servings
Prep Time:  35 minutes Cook Time:  20 minutes

Asparagus and Artichoke Risotto

This twist on a classic risotto is a springtime delight that will fit into even your most elegant lunches and dinners.

Ingredients

1 cup (1-inch pieces) asparagus

2 lemons, halved

6 baby purple (Fiesole) artichokes, cleaned, blanched, and quartered

4 cups vegetable stock, low-sodium preferred, warmed

1½ cups dry champagne

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small shallot, minced

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup Arborio rice

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground white pepper

Instructions

  1. Par-cook the asparagus: fill a large pot with water and salt to taste. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Set up a large bowl filled with ice water by the side of the stove.
  2. Add the asparagus and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately transfer with a slotted spoon or kitchen spider to the ice water. Keep the water at a low boil.
  3. When the asparagus is completely cool, remove from the ice water and place in a separate bowl; set aside.
  4. Par-cook the artichokes: set up a large bowl filled with cold water. Squeeze the lemons over the bowl (don’t worry about any seeds) and add the lemons to the water.
  5. Cut an artichoke into quarters and scoop out the prickly, fibrous, feathery material and discard (this is the choke; it is not edible. The smaller the artichoke, the smaller the choke portion will be.) Cut off the top of the artichoke and remove any outer leaves that feel very thick, tough, or are heavily blemished. Immediately add the sections to the lemon water. Repeat with the remaining artichokes. Invert a plate over the top of the artichokes to make sure they are submerged.
  6. To the pot of still boiling water, add salt to taste. The water should taste salty. Add the artichokes and cook for 4 to 7 minutes (depending upon the size of the artichoke sections), until the leaves feel considerably softer than when they were raw. Immediately transfer to the ice water. Add more ice to cover if necessary. These vegetables can be made up to a day ahead and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator.
  7. Make the risotto: in a medium saucepan, warm the stock over moderate heat. Open the champagne and let it come to room temperature.
  8. In a large sauté pan, combine the butter, olive oil, shallot, and garlic and cook over moderate heat until translucent and the garlic is aromatic. Add the rice and stir until it is coated with fat and toasts lightly in the pan.
  9. Add ¾ cup of the champagne, and stir constantly until absorbed into the rice. Add ½ cup of the stock, and stir until absorbed. Repeat with the remaining stock, ½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition until it is absorbed into the rice. When you have used all of the stock, stir in the reserved vegetables and the remaining champagne.
  10. Add the Parmesan cheese and stir well. Season with the salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Kitchen Tips

  1. Artichokes are notoriously difficult to cook because of the amount of time necessary to clean them, and their tendency to turn liquids an unappealing brown. The key is to work with them one at a time, and use plenty of acidulated water. You can even rub the pieces with lemon as you clean them and add another lemon to the cooking water. This will give the risotto a lemony note, so these precautionary additions or even more lemon than is called for the recipe are truly optional. The champagne in the recipe also helps the artichoke to keep its color.
  2. We used beautiful purple baby artichokes, like those that grow around the walls of the ancient Roman ghetto, but you can use any baby artichoke. They are traditionally associated with the spring and are often part of  spring religious feasts in regions where they were native plants. They are also popular for the winter holiday season.
  3. Make sure to buy a champagne you want to drink. Inexpensive bottlings are just fine, but a cheap and harsh champagne will ruin this delicate risotto. It also works nicely with Prosecco or another sparkling wine.

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