Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Spring Green

My mother was the product of prim and proper parents. Yes, my grandfather would spit out the occasional "Damn!" when he wanted to emphasize a point or express frustration, but I never heard my grandmother utter more than "Heavens!" though she could rock a disapproving stare like nobody's business.

On the rare occasions my mother would utter a curse, it tended toward the somewhat more emphatic "Goddammit" arena, and in high school I delighted in popping out with a casual "Sh*t!" and later dropped f-bombs with abandon just for the shock effect.

It won't surprise you, then, that any discussion of bodily functions, much less sex, was off the table unless it was couched in technical terminology. But one thing she could never resist mentioning every time it came up in conversation was the amusing effect that asparagus has on the smell of urine. "It makes your pee smell funny, you know," she'd say with a naughty grin, as if this was a curious phenomenon she, and she alone, had knowledge of.

So every year when it's asparagus season, I can't help but think of her when I pick up up the brightly rubber-banded bundles of asparagus from the farmers' market. And yes, mom, whether they're grilled, steamed, stir-fried or, in this case, made into a delicious emerald risotto, they still make my pee smell funny.

Asparagus Risotto
Adapted from Mario Batali

1 lb. asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved

4-6 c. chicken or vegetable stock

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 onion, diced

2 tsp. garlic, finely chopped
2 c. Arborio rice

1 c. dry white wine
Salt to taste

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks and cook until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add just enough water to allow machine to puree until smooth; set aside.

Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Then, in a deep nonstick skillet, heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium flame. When it is hot, add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add a large pinch of salt. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.

After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in 1/2 cup asparagus puree. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.

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