If you’re not already on the risotto bandwagon, let me get you aboard by telling you this: It’s so much more malleable, forgiving and even easy than we have been taught. You don’t really have to stir constantly — every now and then is fine — and as long as the heat is kept on the low side and you add the hot liquid gradually, you’re in business. Arborio and other short-grain rices get wonderfully creamy without much effort on your part, and yet risotto is impressive enough that dinner party guests will think you’re a casual, unassuming genius if you serve it in between a simple salad and a homey dessert.
There are some crucial, must-pay-attention moments, and they come at the end, when it’s best to stop as soon as the rice is tender but still a little al dente. Finish it quickly with a little more broth and some cheese, and serve immediately. (Believe it or not, you don’t really need butter.) What you’re after is something that spreads a little on the plate: loose but not soupy — and certainly not stiff.
This particular recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms, but if you happen to score some morels — one of the other stars of spring — the match becomes a marriage.
Red wine gives this risotto deep flavor and a lavender hue; substitute chicken stock if you prefer. With asparagus just coming into season, they provide crisp texture and a pop of color.
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Asparagus and mushroom risotto
4 cups store-bought or homemade mushroom broth (may substitute vegetable broth)
1 cup water
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms (may substitute your favorite variety of mushroom)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup chopped shallots
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup cabernet sauvignon or other full-bodied dry red wine
1/2 cup finely shredded vegetarian Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine the broth and the water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and add the asparagus. Cook until just crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the asparagus to a bowl. Reduce the heat of the broth mixture to low.
Discard the shiitake stems or reserve for another use (such as broth). Thinly slice the mushroom caps.
Pour the oil into a large, wide pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the shallots, garlic and thyme; cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to soften, 2 minutes. Add the shiitakes and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften and wilt, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the wine is absorbed, 4 to 6 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add 1 1/2 cups of the broth and cook, stirring, until it is mostly absorbed. Continue adding the broth in 1/2-cup increments and stirring frequently after each addition, until most of the liquid is absorbed. The risotto is done when all but 1/2 cup of the broth is used and the rice is creamy and just tender, with a very slight al dente bite, 25 to 30 minutes total.
Stir in the reserved asparagus and cook for 1 minute, to warm it through. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Taste, and add more salt, as needed.
Immediately before serving, stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of broth so the risotto is loose enough to spread in a bowl. (You don’t want it to be stiff.) Divide among shallow bowls and sprinkle on more cheese and parsley, if desired.
Nutrition per serving: 340 calories, 13 g protein, 49 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 830 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar
Adapted from “EatingWell Vegetables: The Essential Reference,” by the editors of EatingWell magazine (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).