Asparagus is the star of this risotto, as you might expect. However there is a 'secret' ingredient in this dish that goes a surprisingly long way to making it one of my absolute favourite risottos. I may have said that some of the earlier risotto recipes i have posted are my 'favourite'.... it does depend somewhat on what is in season, but this one really is up there at the top of the 'favourites' list, and is one of the reasons i look forward to asparagus season so much each year. The poached egg on top goes a long way to adding to the creamy deliciousness of this risotto, but we could hardly call it a 'secret ingredient', since it is mentioned in the title. The item that takes this dish over the line into culinary heaven is the tarragon.
I've become a real fan of tarragon over the past few years. Tarragon is a perennial herb, that dies away each winter, then comes back with renewed vigour the next spring. At least, that is what is supposed to happen. My first foray into growing this herb was a failure. I then discovered that tarragon HATES wet feet, and i had planted it in heavy soil that stayed very wet all winter. So, no tarragon. The first few times i cooked this recipe i omitted the tarragon and just used parsley. Then i established a herb garden at the back door, and tried growing tarragon again. The tarragon loves this spot, and now i have plenty. Finally i was able to include tarragon in this risotto, and discover just how much its subtle aniseed flavour adds to the dish. If you don't have tarragon, this risotto is still well worth making, as the combo of asparagus, creamy rice and poached egg is pretty damn delicious in its own right.
Another time i might tell you about my failure(s) at growing asparagus. Luckily for me i don't have to resort to supermarket asparagus, although if i did, it might encourage me to try a bit harder on the growing front!
ASPARAGUS RISOTTO with a POACHED EGG and PARMESAN
From 'Risotto' by Maxine Clark
500g fresh asparagus
about 1.5 litres hot vegetable stock
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
6 fresh eggs
125 g butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
500 g risotto rice
50 g freshly grated Parmesan cheese, with extra for serving
sea salt and freshly grated black pepper
8 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley and tarragon
Trim the tough bits from the base of each asparagus stem. Put the stock in a large fry pan and heat to simmering. Add the asparagus and cook for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Remove the asparagus and refresh under cold running water. Transfer the stock to a saucepan and add the tough bits of asparagus cut from the bases of the stems. Cut the cooked stalks into short lengths.
To poach the eggs, fill a medium saucepan with cold water and bring to the boil. When the water is boiling, add the wine vinegar, and crack an egg into a cup. Give the boiling water a good stir to create a whirlpool, and slip the egg from the cup into the vortex. Simmer very gently for 3 minutes, then transfer the egg to a bowl of warm water. Repeat the same procedure with the other eggs. Keep them warm while you make the risotto. *(I usually do this egg poaching step while the risotto is cooking)
Melt half the butter in your large fry pan and add the chopped onions. Cook gently for 5-6 minutes until soft, golden and translucent. Add the rice to the onion and stir until well coated with butter and heated through. Begin adding the stock, a ladle at a time (keeping back the asparagus trimmings), stirring gently until each ladle has been almost absorbed by the rice. The risotto should be kept at a bare simmer throughout cooking, and not let to dry out - keep adding more stock as necessary. Continue until the rice is tender and creamy, but the grains are still firm (this should take 20 to 25 minutes depending on the type of rice used - check the packet instructions).
Taste, and season well with salt and pepper and beat in the remaining butter and the 50 g Parmesan. Fold in the chopped asparagus, reserving a few tips for garnish. Cover, let rest for a few minutes so the risotto can relax and heat the asparagus through, then serve immediately. You may like to add a little more hot stock to the risotto just before you serve to loosen it, but don't let it wait around too long or the rice will turn mushy. Serve the risotto in bowls topped with a drained poached egg, reserved asparagus tips, and sprinkled with extra chopped parsley, tarragon and Parmesan shavings.