Asparagus has been part of food culture for millennia, which is borne
out by its inclusion in an Egyptian frieze dating back to 3000BC. And
asparagus is the singular, not the plural, which would otherwise have to
Asparagus has diuretic properties, and is loaded with vitamins and minerals, which explains why it has been used over the centuries not only as a food, but as a medicine as well.
The local season is quite short, from August to end November, and in warmer climes – particularly at night - the spears can grow up to 25cm in 24 hours!
Asparagus thrive in saline soils apparently, and traditionally it was not uncommon to use salt to supress weed growth in soil intended for asparagus, which had the unintended consequence of making the soil unsuitable for growing pretty much anything else!
We produce just under 4 000 tonnes of asparagus each year in South Africa, so there’s plenty of them out there! If you’ve a taste for this delicious vegetable, a member of the lily family, it is easy to understand why Louis XIV of France went to the lengths of having a hothouse built specially to ensure a year round supply for the royal table! Although currently out of season, asparagus are nonetheless available in most supermarkets, and not overly pricey either.
Asparagus can be enjoyed blanched, lightly boiled, steamed, fried or baked in the oven. It makes a lovely starter sautéed in butter until just tender, and covered in Parmesan shavings, it ends up in quiches and soups, but I wanted to do something with risotto.
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 60 minutes
Ingredients, Selection and Preparation
1 medium onion: peeled and finely chopped.
150ml dry Vermouth: you could use dry white wine, but I prefer Vermouth as it is more flavourful.
2 garlic cloves: crushed.
300g Arborio rice
1250ml chicken stock: vegetable stock would also do, but it is less flavourful.
150g Parmesan cheese: grated.
250g green asparagus spears: chop off the woody bits at the end. Slice the bottom third about 2-3mm thick, then divide the remainder in half. Separate the large bits from the thin slices.
Salt and pepper for seasoning.
Bring the kettle to the boil to make your chicken stock. Once the kettle boils, make the chicken stock in a small saucepan and keep it simmering on the stove top.
Heat a large flat saucepan and sweat the onion and garlic in 30g of the butter until translucent. Add the rice then stir until coated, and it begins to crackle gently. This is important, so turn off the cooker-hood extractor fan and listen carefully!
Pour in the Vermouth, and stir constantly until it is all absorbed.
Meantime, melt 50g of butter in a medium frying pan and gently fry the larger asparagus pieces until they just begin to soften, about five to six minutes. Set aside in the pan.
Add the stock to the rice saucepan one ladle at a time, stirring gently in a figure of eight pattern until it is all absorbed.
Do not be tempted to add more than one ladle of stock at a time else you’ll end up with a mush.
As you progress adding the stock, the starch in the rice will be released, and it will become creamier. Once you’ve used about half the stock, add the small asparagus slices.
Continue to add stock, until you’ve used about 1 litre. Scoop up a few grains of rice and taste them. They should be al dente, much like pasta in that they should have a slight resistance when you bite the grain, but it must not be crunchy.
Check the seasoning at this time, and adjust if need be.
Continue adding stock one ladle at a time until the rice texture is just right.
Add the grated Parmesan cheese and stir it in, followed by the asparagus pieces. Stir them in and set aside covered for five minutes to “creamify”.
Serve with some Parmesan shavings. Enjoy!
Wine choices for this dish range across Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier, but you’re looking for some specific flavours and aromas.
Any of the above that are relatively lean in style, combining citrus, stone and some tropical fruit will do very nicely. You want something with crisp clean acidity, and the creaminess that comes with light oaking in older barrels.