Why This Recipe Works
- Asparagus and morel mushrooms are an incredible flavor pairing and some of the best ingredients the spring has to offer.
I've already gone deep into the science of risotto in the past, so there's no real need to re-tread in already-been-treaded-in waters. Suffice it to say, the key to great texture and flavor is to rinse the rice first, save that starchy water, and use it to thicken up the risotto at the end. This lets you get a good amount of nutty toasting on the grains while still maintaining the starch's thickening power.
What we're here to talk about today is vegetables—in particular, asparagus and morel mushrooms. The two are partners in crime that could give Pinky and The Brain a run for their money in terms of sheer awesomeness, and now's the time of year to get 'em.
And while we're at it—oh, what the heck—let's grab a few more of my favorite spring vegetables as well. You can use any green vegetables you'd like, but here are some of my favorites. Whatever you do, just don't add any ramps to this recipe. I hate those disgusting things and frown upon anybody who cares for them. Seriously.
Let's start with fava beans. The bane of every prep cook's existence, these mildly flavored, bright green beans need to be shucked not once, but twice. After popping them out of their big pods (that's the easy part), they then have to have their individual skins removed from each bean. It's not fun. Fortunately, there's an easy way to do it: blanch them first.
After a brief boil in water, they not only slip out of their skins with an easy squeeze, but they actually achieve a brighter green color than they do if you blanch them post-peeling. That's a win-win.
When shopping for favas, look for whole pods that are firm and snap when you start to bend them. Older fava pods will be spongy and bendy. Older fava pods contain older fava beans, which is not what you want.
Asparagus comes in a few different colors and sizes. Between the fat purple and green varieties, you actually won't find much difference in flavor (I like to mix them anyway, because it makes the dish look prettier). White asparagus, on the other hand, does have a different flavor. Delicate and slightly bitter, with a deeper earthiness than its colored counterparts.
I blanch my asparagus in the same water I blanched my fava beans in, which I eventually use to cook my rice as well. That way any flavor that gets blanched out of the vegetables gets added right back to the pot as it cooks. Effectively, it's like making a quick vegetable stock.
Zucchini and Snap Peas
Normally I wouldn't blanch zucchini—they're so bland and watery that boiling them renders them completely lifeless. Baby zucchini, on the other hand, are more intense in flavor and take well to blanching.
Finally, snap peas are particularly bright and sweet this time of year. Just like with favas, look for whole pods that are stiff and snappy. They don't get any crunchier when they cook.
The only tough part about this recipe is the morels. Fresh morels are really tough to find, and when you do, extraordinarily expensive. Luckily, this recipe is one of the rare cases where dried mushrooms are actually better.
The key to great flavored risotto is to start with great flavored liquid. Dried mushrooms offer you the perfect opportunity. Once you've blanched your vegetables, you can use that same flavorful water to re-hydrate your mushrooms (the fastest way is to microwave the 'shrooms in the water. Heat speeds up the hydration process). The water that comes off the mushrooms when you drain them should be deep, dark brown and intensely flavorful. This translates to deep, dark brown, and intensely flavorful risotto.
After cooking the rice until nice and creamy, all that's left is to stir the blanched vegetables into the pot and sauté your reconstituted mushrooms. It's bright and springy but still rib-sticking and filling. Perfect for the occasional drizzly day in May.
Spring Vegetable Risotto
Asparagus, zucchini, fava beans, snap peas, and morel mushrooms power this verdant rice.
- 1/2 pound mixed asparagus (white, green, purple, or a combination thereof), ends trimmed, stalks cut into 1-inch segments, tips removed and reserved separately
- 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, cut into 1/2-inch segments on the bias
- 1/2 pound fresh shelled fava beans, still in their skins
- 1/2 pound baby zucchini, split in half lengthwise
- 2 ounces dried morel mushrooms
- 1 1/2 cups (about 13.5 ounces) risotto-style rice (see note)
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium cloves garlic, grated on a microplane grater (about 2 teaspoons)
- 2 small shallots, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon juice and 2 teaspoons zest from 1 lemon
Bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath. Working with one vegetable at a time, cook asparagus stalks, asparagus tips, snap peas, fava beans, and zucchini by adding to water and cooking until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes (taste as they cook to confirm doneness). Transfer to ice bath to stop cooking, then drain and transfer to a bowl. Carefully peel skins off of fava beans. Set all vegetables aside while you prepare the risotto.
Add mushrooms to a microwave-safe bowl and cover with 1 quart of vegetable blanching water. Microwave on high heat until just starting to simmer, about 5 minutes. Let steep for 10 minutes, then remove mushrooms and carefully dry with paper towels. Reserve mushroom liquid.
Combine rice and mushroom liquid in a large bowl. Agitate rice with fingers or a whisk to release starch. Strain through a fine mesh strainer set in a 2-quart liquid cup measure or other large bowl. Allow to drain five minutes, stirring rice occasionally. Reserve liquid.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until foaming subsides. Add rice and cook, stirring and tossing frequently until all liquid is evaporated, oil is bubbling, and rice has begun to take on a golden blond color and nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and shallots and continue to cook, stirring frequently until aromatic, about 1 minute. Give reserved broth a good stir and pour all but one cup over the rice. Increase heat to high and heat until simmering. Stir rice once, cover, and reduce heat to lowest possible setting.
Cook rice for ten minutes undisturbed. Stir once, shake pan gently to redistribute rice, cover, and continue cooking until liquid is mostly absorbed and rice is tender with just a faint bite, about 10 minutes longer.
While rice is cooking, heat remaining tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add dried mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until faintly nutty and crisp in bits, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate.
Remove lid from rice and add final cup of liquid. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring and shaking rice constantly until thick and creamy. Fold in vegetables, mushrooms, parsley, and lemon juice and zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add water just until risotto is creamy and loose. Serve immediately.
I prefer using Carnaroli rice for its slight longer grains and firmer texture. Feel free to use any risotto-style rice like Arborio or Vailone Nano.