It’s still spring, to state the obvious. If you haven’t yet made risotto alla primavera, please do! This sublime dish borrows spring’s green hues to deliver fresh flavors that live up to the visual feast provided by nature.
In Italy the usual thing is to feature one or, at most, two vegetables that happen to be in season at the same time. But I like to break that rule (if it is one) by organizing a congenial meeting of at least three vegetables vying for the most beautiful tone of green. Even though I know risotto is about the rice, I think using an abundance of these vegetables allows the exuberant mood of the season to come through.
There are a few tricks that can make risotto seem intimidating to those who don’t often prepare rice this way. If you’re an experienced risotto maker, skip to the recipe. Otherwise, here’s a quick review.
Do your best with ingredients. If you find gorgeous local asparagus or zucchini, great. If not, don’t let that stop you. Lesser specimens, chosen carefully, can also be fine. Some vegetables, notably peas, are just about as good frozen as fresh. I find it convenient to use shelled edamame found in the refrigerated produce section. Arborio or another short-grain Italian rice, which oozes starch as it cooks, is the right choice.
Prep ingredients in advance. You already know this standard wisdom. But, with risotto, it’s essential. If ingredients aren’t added in orderly procession, the timing of the dish could be off. Which means undercooking or, more likely, overcooking. Which is bad.
Build a flavor base. For delicate-tasting risotto alla primavera, sauté leeks or spring onions just until tender and translucent. Next the rice is sautéed for a minute or two. Then comes a large splash of white wine, a traditional touch. Why? For flavor, adding a bit of acidity to balance risotto’s richness. The herbs of choice (basil, parsley, mint) are mild, allowing the flavors of the vegetables to shine.
Good broth helps. Make a full-bodied vegetable or chicken broth if you can. If not, choose a decent brand. And make sure to keep it at a simmer throughout the risotto making.
Finish with a flourish. It doesn’t take long to make risotto–less than half an hour–but you’ve got to stick close to it. As the broth is absorbed, add what’s needed to cover the ingredients, stirring gently. When they are just tender, taste for seasoning, turn off the heat and let stand for five minutes. Now your risotto is ready for the final step, called mantecatura (“creaming”), which calls for stirring the butter and half the cheese into the risotto.
Risotto alla primavera can lead off just about any spring meal. Or it could be a side to broiled salmon or sautéed chicken breasts. Or follow my example and make a meal on just this risotto.
- 8 cups seasoned vegetable or chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 leek or spring onion cut in rounds
- 2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
- 1 cup white wine or dry vermouth
- 1 medium zucchini diced in ¼-inch pieces (1-1/2 cups)
- 8 asparagus spears cut in ½-inch pieces (1-1/4 cups)
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas or edamame thawed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut in small pieces
- 2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
- ½ cup snipped flat-leaf parsley, basil or mint leaves
Pour broth into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet. Saute leek until translucent but not browned.
Add rice and cook over medium heat, stirring, until grains look translucent and smell toasty. Add enough warm broth to barely cover rice, about 1 cup. Stir gently until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Stir in zucchini, asparagus and peas. Continue covering mixture with broth and stirring until rice is tender but firm. Stir in a final dose of broth (you may not need it all), turn off heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
Gently but thoroughly stir in butter, half the cheese and parsley. Serve immediately, passing remaining cheese at the table.