Asparagus seems to be one of the last remaining seasonal treats. I know you can buy it in November but the spears that arrive from Chile, or where-ever the out of season stuff comes from, are fairly slim and rather like drinking cold red wine, somewhat tasteless. Talking of red wine, we are also home, in this neck of the woods, to Bath Asparagus a throw back to the Roman Era when the local area was populated with colonisers from Rome bringing with them colonisers of their own. Bath Asparagus (above) looks like a pretty, if slender, version of the hearty native plant and is only found north of Italy in the immediate Bath locality! We are not allowed to pick it let along eat it, but one can see it growing quite abundantly in the lanes around us as Roman villa remains are dug up periodically…..
Anyway, we’ve just eaten the British stuff, grown in Evesham I dare say, for dinner this evening and I have to say it’s a very cost-effective way to stretch a bunch of asparagus around four people. The kids are a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing but as they like risotto with poached eggs they’re willing to overlook the presence of the asparagus. One could easily substitute the asparagus for peas the rest of the time.
So for 4 people you will need: 2 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 small Onion, diced, 1 stick of Celery, diced, 1 clove of Garlic, crushed, or a squirt of garlic puree, 400g Risotto Rice, 1.2 litres of Vegetable Stock, 1 bunch Asparagus (however much you want really) tips cut off as shown in the photo and the rest of the usable stem (not the woody end part) chopped, zest of half a Lemon, Parmesan Cheese, grated, a knob of unsalted Butter, 4 Eggs, Salt and Black Pepper.
So in a large heavy based saucepan, heat the oil over a moderate heat and add the onion, cook until transparent.
Meanwhile pour the stock into a smaller saucepan and heat until simmering point. Turn the heat under the stock right down once simmering. Add the asparagus tips to the stock to cook for 5-7 minutes until tender then remove and set aside.
Once the onions are transparent add the celery and garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes stirring from time to time. Add the risotto rice and stir around so that the rice is coated with the olive oil, then start adding the stock. As with all risotto, you can add a glassful of white wine or preferably Vermouth at the start of the absorption process if you wish, or just stick with stock which of course you add, ladelled in from the saucepan at regular intervals, stirring all the time as you go. The whole absorption process takes about 15-20 minutes over a moderate heat. After about 5 minutes from the point where you start adding stock add the chopped asparagus so it has a chance to cook and then about 5 minutes from the end, as the rice seems to be almost tender add the lemon zest, a little finely grated Parmesan cheese, the butter and seasoning as required.
Whilst all this is going on fill a large saucepan or frying pan (this is a hob heavy meal) with boiling water from the kettle and allow it to reach simmering point over a medium heat, add a pinch of salt, then, when the risotto is done, crack the eggs carefully into the water, depending on the size of your saucepan you may have to cook the eggs in 2 batches. Cook the eggs for 2-4 minutes depending how soft you like them, and, remove to a wad of kitchen paper using a slotted spoon. The kitchen roll will soak up excess water from the egg. Dish up the risotto, add the asparagus tips and the poached egg, a little more Parmesan and black pepper if desired.
What else is there to say? I love Spring……