Marcella Hazan, the grande dame of Italian cookery, writes with such authority (or crankiness, depending on your point of view) that when she instructs you to use beef stock for your delicate risotto of spring vegetables, that chicken stock reduces too sharply and simply will not do, you buy beef stock. You think twice, maybe three times about it, but you just tamp down any instincts of your own and buy the beef stock.
And you know what? She was right. It worked. I did take a few liberties with her recipe, opting to keep the asparagus as crisp as I could and throwing in some fresh peas, but the rest is as Marcella intended. Signora Hazan also notes, helpfully, that with more ethereal flavorings (seafoods or spring vegetables, say) risotto is best prepared in the Venetian style, very slack and almost soupy; bolder ingredients (mushrooms, sausage) warrant a tighter consistency. My attempt had a fine layering of flavor (rich stock, Parmigiana-Reggiano, and a gentle underpinning of green) and a creamy, firm-to-the-bite texture, but the risotto ended up a little tighter than I was going for. Try, try again.
I served this as a main dish one night, and leftovers as a smaller course with halibut the next, reheating it on the stove and adding a little stock to loosen it up again. For a beautiful vegetarian main, you could certainly replace the beef stock with mushroom or vegetable broth, though if Marcella comes knocking on your door, I had nothing to do with it.
Risotto with Asparagus & Peas
adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, 1992
- 1 lb asparagus
- 1/2 lb shelling peas in their pods
- 2 C Arborio rice
- salt and pepper
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp onion, minced
- 1/4 C Parmigiana-Reggiano
- 1 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 32 oz stock
Snap off the woody ends from the asparagus and discard. Peel any very thick stalks, if needed. Shell the peas. In a pan large enough for the asparagus to lay flat, fill with water 2″ up the sides and add a tablespoon of salt. (Don’t add the asparagus yet.) Put over medium-high heat until simmering. Add asparagus and cover for 3-4 minutes. Remove the asparagus and reserve the blanching water.
When cool enough to handle, cut the asparagus tips 1 1/4″ – 1 1/2″ from the top. Cut the stalks in 1/2″ pieces. In a medium pot, measure out the blanching liquid and add enough stock to make 6 cups total. Bring to a slow, steady simmer on a back burner.
Add the butter, olive oil and onion in a broad, heavy-bottomed pot. Over medium-high, cook the onion until translucent and softened. Add the rice, coating the grains. Add 1/2 C of simmering broth, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Stir until all the liquid is absorbed, then add another ladleful of broth, maintaining the heat at a “lively pace”. Continue to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to keep the rice from sticking. Continue adding the stock and stirring carefully (turn down the heat if you’re at risk of scorching the rice), adding the vegetables when half of the broth has been added.
After about 20 minutes, check the rice for doneness. When done, the risotto will be tender but firm to the bite; aim for a creamy, loose (but not runny) consistency overall. Add the Parmesan; taste and correct for salt. Stir in the parsley. Transfer to a platter and serve right away.
mmmm! That sounds so yummy good!
I love Marcella’s crankiness! I think I tried almost every recipe in her book and my favorite is the osso bucco; still, I think if it tastes good, that is the final factor! Your risotto sounds lovely, soupy or not!
I’ll have to try her osso bucco! It’s one of my father’s favorite dishes, but I’ve never made it. Thanks for the note, Joumana!
This looks gorgeous! A creamy risotto is so comforting and tasty!
Yum yum and more yum. This is scrumptious 🙂
This dish looks fabulous! I will definitely have to try this recipe.
i once saw a marcella hazan book, specifically on risotto. your risotto has reminded me that i should be searching for it! thank you!
Thanks for the notes, all! Salute!
I made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious! I’m so glad I decided to blindly follow you down the path with beef stock. I took some liberties with your recipe too. Since we watch our salt, I used a teaspoon in the water for the asparagus and added the juice of 1 lemon and some lemon zest at the end to brighten it a little. My husband, who is not a risotto fan, said I finally made a risotto he would eat again. I like to cook but am reticent to blindly try things but everything of yours I’ve made has been a huge hit in my house. Thanks so much for tempting fate and sharing your experiments with us.
Thanks for the note, Ruth! I’m so glad you enjoyed the risotto, too. Nice touch with the lemon! 🙂
Oh, I died and went to heaven when I made this…………