asparagus leek risotto
(plus second anniversary surprise)

dr bob never had a fresh leek until his forties. dr bob never even had a can of leek and potato soup until his forties. dr bob still feels pretty young and looks pretty good for a middle aged grownup person. It's hard to believe how fast life seems to go by. But thanks to a week on a small impoverished Caribbean island at a luxury hotel on a beautiful beach with a subcompact rental car, the food team got to cruise a lot of local minimarkets and "supermarkets", and had one dinner in town trying to escape the outrageous prices on the beach. Of course since it was a second wedding anniversary, not a whole lot was saved, but we did accidentally discover a wonderful vegetable pasta dish with leeks in the lineup. So wonderful that after a decade of not having time to try any of the recipes we tagged in Bon Appetit (well, hardly any), we were inspired to write to "Ask Bon Appetit" to see if they might coax a real by-the-numbers recipe out of the chef who, by the way, had mysteriously appeared from the kitchen to ask us how we liked the food (another first for us) and then roughly explained the recipe upon request.

We came home and promptly gave it a try, and it was good, but just not the same. So we figured we'd have to write the chef, since there was no guarantee our magazine would help us out on this one. [We didn't. They didn't.] Meanwhile we had half the white trunk part of the leek left from the trial pasta event and a bunch of trim-looking asparagus both relaxing in the fridge. Asparagus risotto came to mind, so we got out Marcella (Hazan, the book) and then dr bob had the brilliant idea of using the leek in place of the token chopped onions in her recipe. But was conveniently getting sick so ms ani executed the idea. She's getting to be quite a risottatrice. Excellent!

One question remained. Riso arborio or riso integrale? Those Italians have a whole lineup of different rices. For risotto one can use either arborio or "roma" or "classico" or "integrale", the latter of which is a kind of brown italian rice. dr bob hauled about 2 kilos each of both arborio and integrale back on the last Roman expedition, influenced towards the integrale by vague health food considerations. These contributed to the great starch bug plague of '93 which we have still not emerged from at this writing. One evening the food team had spent hours sifting and pawing through all this rice to eliminate hordes of these little creatures that could not escape from the plastic bag in which the four 1 kilo boxes were sitting. (Others had already escaped from previously imported stocks of arborio rice or DeCecco pasta to establish a colony behind the counters in the apartment kitchen, sending out search parties on a daily basis. We had to buy a house to escape them.)

One might wonder why we went to such lengths with our rice import business. The answer is simple. We're cheap. [Frugal?] About 5 bucks plus for a pound here. 2 bucks for a kilo there. Do the numbers. [Hint: $5/lb here versus $2/2.2 lb there -> 5.5 here/there ratio.] [Later note: prices have fallen considerably in the interim due to the increasing market for real Italian food, saving us from having to fill our bags with this heavy product on our return trips from risottoland.] Anyway, while we were cruising the minimarkets in Antigua, picking up our annual supply of mango and guava jams and jellies and various and other sundries, we discovered a lonely 1 lb box of arborio sitting on the shelf. Which we snapped up. Tilting our stocks in favor of an arborio surplus. So we went with arborio for the asparagus-leek risotto.

So the lineup for our variation of the traditional asparagus risotto goes like this:

ingredients

1)
1 lb fresh asparagus, thin stalked
1 1/2 T butter
2 or 3 T olive oil
1/2 white leek stalk, finely chopped (about a cup)
2)
1 1/2 c arborio rice
1/2 t salt, or to taste 1 vegetable broth cube, or equivalent
3)
freshly ground pepper
1 T butter
1/2 c freshly grated parmesan

instructions

  1. Asparagus prep: break off the ends of the stalks and potato peel the harder parts down if there are any. Ours were tender enough without the peeling. Steam in an asparagus steamer standing up for about 5 minutes after boiling. Cut into half inch lengths and reserve the tips to add in at the end. Save a cup of the asparagus water to add to the risotto.
  2. Meanwhile, have a teapot boiling up about 4 or 5 cups of water for the rice to be added as needed.
  3. Sauté the leeks in the olive oil and butter until translucent, then add the detipped asparagus pieces for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Then add the rice and mix around till it gets well coated.
  4. Then add the cup of asparagus water. When absorbed, begin adding the boiling water from the teapot a half cup or so at a time for about 20 minutes or so that the rice takes to cook (al dente test!), together with the veggie broth cube and the salt.
  5. Final touch. Turn off the heat and mix in the tablespoon of butter, the asparagus tips, and the almost half cup of parmesan, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately. We quite enjoyed it.

notes

  1. You don't half to fly to the Caribbean to move on the leek question. Just go out and buy some. And try our version of the St John's leek and veggie pasta. Whatever, it's a winning vegetable. [Or is it a root?]
  2. And try it before your golden years are here. We did and we're glad.

variation: asparagus and baby shrimp

  1. Many years later no leeks are on hand but some asparagus has been sitting way too long in the fridge, so a risotto burial seems like the only solution. The usual onion replaces the leek, and a small plastic container (1 cup size) of previously frozen baby shrimps are snagged on the way home from work to do a combo flavor kind of thing.  Rice cut down to one cup to intensify the mix. The asparagus are a bit soft in places. bob whacks off the stiff ends, rinses them rubbing off the soft spots and does the asparagus pot boiling routine separately. And chops up some left over fresh chanterelle mushrooms, just a partial handful also aging in cold storage, which are sautéed in a little butter separately. No open bottle of white wine there though, so bob hits the rice with a splash of Bacardi light rum which does the job at the initial rice toss-in stage. The add-ins are incorporated about 5 minutes from the end. A bunch of yellowing flat parsley gives up some green parts to make a couple tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley. Plus the usual parmigiano and black pepper finisher.
  2. The basic idea of asparagus and shrimp together came from the orecchiette Campbell cream of shrimp soup asparagus combo. Ms_ani was impressed.
  3. You can do this with baby shrimps in a can too. With or without any kind of mushrooms. And if you have a leek, that too.
  4. Oh, before you incorporate the asparagus, take the tougher ends and food process them with a little water to add a greenish tinge to the creamy risotto end product. To spread the flavor a bit more.

 

second anniversary surprise

ingredients/instructions

Fettuccine, freshly prepared, tossed with:
chopped zucchini, spinach, celery, and leek
sautéed in vegetable oil [blanche spinach first, then chop]
spiced with:
garlic, oregano, and fresh dill, salt and pepper.
Add touch of cream at the end, toss in fettuccine.

October 19, 1993 Redcliffe Tavern, Redcliffe Quay, St John's Antigua

Dear Bon Appetit,

The Redcliffe Tavern in the heart of St John's, Antigua serves a great pasta: fettuccine tossed with zucchini, spinach, celery, and leeks. Although the chef explained roughly how to make it, a printed recipe would save us a lot experimentation to get it right.

Thanks, bob and ani

[No reply.]

asplkris.htm: 13-nov-2002 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]