Rus­sell Nor­man’s sea­sonal as­para­gus and girolle risotto

As­para­gus and girolle risotto.

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - By Rus­sell Nor­man

Serves four In­gre­di­ents

• 8 slen­der English as­para­gus spears, woody ends dis­carded

• 150g girolles, dusted but not washed

• 2 medium onions, peeled and finely diced

• 1 small cel­ery stalk, peeled and finely diced

• 1.2 litres veg­etable stock, hot

• 350g carnaroli rice

• A glass of dry ver­mouth

• Ex­tra vir­gin olive oil

• 75g un­salted but­ter

• 120g Parme­san, grated

• Small palm­ful thyme leaves, picked

• Large pinch flat pars­ley leaves, chopped

• Flaky sea salt

• Freshly ground black pep­per

Method

① Heat the stock in a large saucepan and keep it sim­mer­ing. Put a cou­ple of glugs of olive oil in a sep­a­rate large, heavy-based saucepan and place over a low heat. Sauté the onions and cel­ery with a good pinch of salt. Con­tinue for 10mins, un­til they take on a glossy, translu­cent ap­pear­ance.

② Add the rice and mix to coat each grain. Turn up the heat a lit­tle and add the ver­mouth.

③ Add a ladle­ful of hot stock and gen­tly stir. Con­tinue to do so slowly and gen­tly, mak­ing sure the mix­ture never ab­sorbs all the liq­uid and is al­ways very slightly sub­merged. Add more stock, lit­tle by lit­tle, and re­peat for the next 10mins.

④ Mean­while, cut the as­para­gus into

3cm pieces. Mix into the risotto and stir gen­tly for 5mins, slowly adding stock as nec­es­sary. Add the girolles and thyme. Stir well, but care­fully so as not to crush the mush­rooms, cook for an­other 5mins or so, then test the rice for done­ness. It should have a lit­tle re­sis­tance between your teeth but should not be hard. Re­move from the heat.

⑤ Add the but­ter and Parme­san, fold­ing them care­fully into the risotto un­til ab­sorbed. Serve on warm plates with the pars­ley and a light twist of black pep­per.

“As­para­gus in­spires gen­tle thoughts,” wrote Charles Lamb in the 19th cen­tury. When I moved last year to a di­lap­i­dated farm­house in Kent, I had vi­sions of liv­ing the ru­ral idyll in which I pic­tured haystacks, sun­shine, cider and

Mor­ris danc­ing. The re­al­ity is, of course, very dif­fer­ent.

Firstly, I didn’t re­alise there would be such a spec­tac­u­lar amount of mud. It is ab­so­lutely ev­ery­where. Even a short trip to the vil­lage to get half a dozen duck eggs or some home-made fudge can re­sult in the sort of mud bath you’d ex­pect on the bat­tle­fields of Ypres, or a week­end at Glastonbury. Ours isn’t the sort of house where shoes are re­moved at the door, so a day of mod­est out­door ac­tiv­ity can re­sult, come evening, in quite an alarm­ing car­pet of beastly oom­ska over pretty much ev­ery­thing.

Se­condly, with a great gar­den comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity. Hav­ing the space to cul­ti­vate veg­eta­bles, some­thing I have han­kered af­ter all my adult life, means I have had to fi­nally put my money where my mouth is and grow some (ahem). This is no mean task. I re­mem­ber look­ing fondly at pack­ets of seeds in gar­den cen­tres and think­ing how easy it must be to pop them into the soil, watch them sprout, and har­vest the bounty a few months later. Not a chance. No one tells you about weed­ing, turn­ing, com­post­ing, putting lit­tle trays in the green­house for a month, choos­ing the right lo­ca­tion, plant­ing at the right time, pest con­trol, net­ting... It’s ex­haust­ing and seems to have turned me, by stealth, into my grand­fa­ther.

This is a busy time of the year for us gar­den­ers. Spring is where the hard work is done and my big­gest chal­lenge, one that won’t bear fruit, so to speak, for an­other year, is as­para­gus.

Quintessen­tially English, un­mis­tak­ably sea­sonal, as­para­gus is tricky to grow.

You have to put year-old dor­mant plants (known as crowns) into deep trenches sur­rounded by ripe ma­nure, tend them through the spring with fish, blood and bone, pro­tect them with fences while they grow and then mol­ly­cod­dle them in the win­ter with a blan­ket. And they don’t like slugs, snails, bee­tles or frost.

I’ll let you know how my home crop has fared this time next year. Mean­while, thank heav­ens for Co­brey Farms in Here­ford­shire where Wye Val­ley as­para­gus is al­ways avail­able early in spring. I first made this month’s recipe when liv­ing in Venice last year. It was a 14-month, self-im­posed ex­ile, re­search­ing and cook­ing for my new book.

While buy­ing some beau­ti­fully slen­der as­para­gus from Rialto Mar­ket (grown on the nearby is­land of Sant’Erasmo) the gro­cer Paolo sug­gested I took some girolle mush­rooms, fresh from the woody main­land, and made a risotto. The re­sult was stun­ning: earthy, ro­bust and fra­grant, the del­i­cate mush­rooms prov­ing per­fect bed­fel­lows to as­para­gus. If you strug­gle to find early girolles, this risotto works won­der­fully with St Ge­orge’s mush­rooms, also called mousserons, and usu­ally on UK mar­ket stalls in April.

Rus­sell Nor­man’s new cook­book Venice: Four Sea­sons of Home Cook­ing (Pen­guin Fig Tree) is out now

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