The French make a big deal about asparagus, and I applaud them for it. It’s not just a wonderful vegetable. It’s a sign of hope and happiness, the harbinger of spring vegetables and summer fruits to come.
With fresh asparagus, even the simplest dishes can seem luxurious. That’s what happens with this rice dish. Add asparagus and it’s elegant.
Although the rice may remind you of risotto, it’s actually a cross between a pilaf and boiled rice ordinaire. Last-minute additions of cream and cheese give it the lush texture we love in risotto without the 30 minutes of stirring. You can call it a cheat; I think of it as culinary magic.
Think of this as a master recipe you can customize to the seasons. I can’t wait until there are garlic scapes to mix into the rice (boil them for just a minute before stirring them in), and, when summer rolls around, corn off the cob. In colder weather, think mushrooms or squash.
▪ Be picky about your asparagus. Choose medium-thick spears that are firm, and look for tips that are tight. Wrinkled spears and blossoming tips are signs of age.
▪ Cut or break off the woody bottoms – spears usually have a natural breaking point when you bend them – and peel away the skin up to an inch or two below the tip.
▪ Opt for arborio rice you would use for risotto.
▪ Choose a lightly flavored broth, either vegetable (which will make the whole dish vegetarian) or chicken.
Cheesy Rice With Asparagus
From cookbook author Dorie Greenspan.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup arborio or other round rice typically used for risotto
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth (may substitute no-salt-added chicken broth)
1 pound medium-thickness asparagus (about 20), trimmed and peeled
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced, rinsed and patted dry
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 ounces (about 2/3 cup) shredded or grated cheese, such as pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, sharp cheddar or a combination
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 large green onions (trimmed), white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
Handful of fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, chives and/or cilantro, finely chopped
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the rice and cook, stirring, just until it’s glossy. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring, until it has almost evaporated. Add the broth, bring to a boil, stir and cover the pan. Adjust the heat to medium-low so the liquid is barely bubbling; cook undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes or until the rice is al dente and only a shallow layer of broth remains above the rice. Turn off the heat and allow the rice to finish cooking. When it’s properly cooked, there will still be liquid in the pan.
Cut off the asparagus tips (about 2 inches) and reserve; cut the remaining asparagus crosswise into small pieces.
Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Drop in the asparagus pieces; cook for 2 minutes; they should still be firm. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and reserve. Drop in the asparagus tips; cook for 2 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
Wipe out the same saucepan, place it over medium-low heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, toss in the shallot and garlic; cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes or until translucent. Stir in the cooled asparagus pieces, then remove from the heat.
Warm the rice (in its saucepan) over low heat. Stir in the cheese and heavy cream, heating and stirring gently until the cheese melts. Gently stir in the shallot-and-asparagus mixture, green onions and herbs. Season lightly with salt and a generous amount of pepper.
Serve right away, with the reserved asparagus tips alongside, on top or mixed in.
Per serving (based on 10): 180 calories, 6 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 130 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar
Yield: 8 to 10 side-dish servings or 4 main-course servings.