Porcini Mushroom-Asparagus Risotto
We’re past peak asparagus season here in NY but we’re still eating it at our table. Asparagus is one of those vegetables that has a much longer season than it is usually given credit for: that springtime asparagus hype is always more about it being one of the first green things to pop out of the ground after a long, hard winter. But they remain delicious into August, and sliced thinly as they are in this recipe it’s easy enough to trick a certain set of twins in this household that they are just a kind of green bean, the only vegetable they reliably eat any given night.
The co-star of this dish is a pantry staple for us: dried porcini mushrooms. I’ll add dried porcini to just about anything when I’m looking for a deep, earthy twist to a standard dish, like mashed potatoes or polenta. You can even grind them up and dust some steaks with the powder before throwing them on the grill. Porcini seem expensive when you buy them but they are actually very affordable given the amount you usually need—this recipe calls for just a dry half-ounce. And if your supermarket carries them in a bulk section they can be even cheaper yet. But don’t go crazy the first time you buy bulk; not all porcini are created equal, so buy a little the first time around to make sure they don’t reconstitute to something that tastes like stale cardboard. The porcini should have a strong, earthy aroma and if you are buying them prepackaged be sure the pieces within are large (obviously you can pick the best ones out of a bulk bin if you’re going that route!).
If you’ve never made risotto at home before, it requires a special short-grain rice called Arborio and a cooking method that might seem a little daunting at first, but will soon make sense as soon as you take your first toothsome and creamy bite. You need to add your liquid in batches and stir frequently, which helps to keep the interior al dente while softening the exterior of each grain. Some people insist your stock should be simmering in a separate pot as you add it in, but there won’t be a huge difference in your final dish if you are using room temperature stock. Still, this is not a dish to make on a night where you can’t focus on the process.
- 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (a small handful)
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- around 3-1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 bunch of asparagus, wash, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- Soak the mushrooms in 1/2 cup of very hot water. Make sure the mushrooms are completely covered, but try not to use more than the 1/2 cup—you'll use the liquid as part of the cooking stock so the less water you use, the more intense the flavor.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a 4-qt. saucepan, and add the shallots. Cook the shallots for a minute or two, then add the rice. Stir to coat, then add the wine. Allow the wine to cook off and absorb into the rice. While that is happening, quickly chop the soaked mushrooms and add them to the pot.
- After the wine has cooked off, begin adding your cooking liquids. First add the 1/2 cup of water the mushrooms soaked in, and stir the risotto until it has been mostly absorbed. Reduce heat to medium low and start adding your stock one cup/ladle at a time. You don't need to constantly stir, but mother it a bit and don't add the next cup until the liquid has been mostly absorbed from the previous cup.
- When you add your third cup of stock, also add the asparagus and continue to stir. Add your final half cup of stock. Your risotto should be a creamy, almost porridge-like thing at this point. Taste a little to make sure the rice is cooked enough to your taste—it should be a bit al dente. If it is still too crunchy add a bit more stock and cook a few minutes more.
- Remove from heat and stir in most of the cheese, reserving a teaspoon per portion as a garnish.
- This recipe serves 4 to 6 as a main course or 6 to 8 as a side dish or first course.
- Pro tip: if you grab your asparagus with tip in one hand and stem-end in the other, then bend, it will snap at the point it's supposed to—you can discard the tougher stem end. Doesn't make for a clean cut but you can be sure there won't be any asparagus pieces that require a cow's stomach to digest.