The beginning of spring may not necessarily be the moment that you run to break out your Dutch oven and whip up a batch of risotto. In fact, I know many people who enjoy the dish and are accomplished cooks but never attempt to make it themselves. In reality, with a bit of attention to detail, risotto is very simple to cook and requires the perfect amount of focus to get your mind completely off everything else. For me, growing up with my mother’s classic Persian recipes, I used to eat rice on a daily basis, and it seems that I may have overdosed as a kid and barely touch the stuff now compared to then. But I find myself unable to avoid the periodic craving for a decadent plate of creamy risotto with a mix of fresh and exotic ingredients. And with the wave of fantastic green produce trickling into the farmers’ markets and groceries around the city, there are plenty of simple ways to green up your meal. For an exhilarating combination of flavors that will leave you feeling blissful, please see the recipes below.
Saffron Shrimp Risotto with Pan-Steamed and Sautéed Asparagus
Ingredients for risotto:
1 stick unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock
2 ounces pancetta, diced
½ cup shallots
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon whole-thread saffron
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 pound peeled, cleaned, and deveined shrimp
2 cloves garlic
Ingredients for asparagus:
1 bunch asparagus
1 ounce pancetta, diced
1 large shallot, diced
Red chili flakes
Freshly grated Parmesan
1 pinch salt
1 pinch fresh black pepper
Optional: Fresh baguette or rustic bread for the risotto
1. To begin, pour the chicken stock into a pot and bring to a simmer on the stove. Lower heat and keep warm.
2. Sauté shrimp in a pan with olive oil and garlic until pink, then plate and set aside. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp at this stage, as they will later be reincorporated into the risotto.
3. In a Dutch oven, or any big pot, melt the butter on medium-low heat and sauté the pancetta and shallots until the shallots are totally translucent but not browned. This will typically take about 15 minutes. Add the rice and stir thoroughly to coat all the grains with the melted butter. Add the wine and cook for a few minutes until it is nearly all absorbed. You want to make sure most of the alcohol has evaporated at this stage, or you will taste it in the final dish. Add 2 ladles of stock, the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon fresh black pepper, and stir continually at a simmer until the stock is nearly all absorbed. You don’t want to let the risotto sit too long without stirring. Typically, the more constantly you’re stirring, the more integrated and balanced the flavors and textures will be. Continue this process, adding stock until the rice is cooked but still a little al dente, with a fully constituted structure. There is a very fine line between perfectly cooked and overcooked risotto. Right before it is done, it will still seem to be a ways off from being ready, and crossing that “ready” mark will quickly turn your perfect labor of love into a pile of mush. For this reason, it is very important to keep tasting during the cooking process. Through this process you will also be able to adjust your seasoning according to you taste.
4. Right as the risotto is finishing, add the shrimp and freshly grated cheese and mix to fully incorporate.
5. When you are 10 minutes away from finishing the risotto, place the asparagus in a sauté pan and add water until the asparagus are 1/3 of the way covered. Heat and agitate on the stove until the water evaporates. Temporarily remove asparagus. Add oil, the shallots, and the pancetta and sauté on medium heat until the pancetta starts to crisp. Reincorporate the asparagus and add a pinch of salt, fresh-ground black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Sauté until fully cooked.
6. To finish, coat the asparagus with fresh-grated Parmesan and let melt on top, creating a coating. Add a drizzle of fresh lemon juice across the surface. Plate the risotto in a wide bowl with a slice of fresh hearty bread on the side. On a separate plate, place a serving of the asparagus with the coating of cheese intact on top. The combination of dishes should offer a back-and-forth contrast of textures ranging from creamy, fluffy, and delicate to firm and crispy.
The potential for beverage pairings with this meal are magnificent, and we’ll consider two excellent ones here.
The last time I had this I chose the Clos Lapeyre Jurançon Sec – 2006 from the Southwest of France.
Staff Pick Notes: Though it is more common to find the glorious sweet dessert wines of this historic AOC on the foothills of the Pyrenees, an encounter with the rarer dry wines of the region is nothing short of a revelation. The Larrieu family has been expertly demonstrating this for 3 generations. Their vineyard, planted in 1945, is endowed with perfect environmental circumstances. High elevation, clay-limestone soils, warm days with lots of exposure and cool spells that help extend ripening and preserve freshness, all combine to form balanced grapes that are hand-harvested and allowed to develop into wine naturally for years before being bottled and released. Going on 7 years after vintage, the wine is still very lively yet magnificently complex, showcasing heady florals, yellow fruits, minerals and acidity. This wine will thrill any wine drinker.
For an equally mind-expanding experience, pair this instead (or if you need a second bottle) with the Fleury “Fleur de l’Europe” Brut – NV.
Staff Pick Notes: Long a favorite of mine, the house of Fleury produces mesmerizing Champagnes that are unlike anything else. It seems almost unfair to the competition to sell a bubbly this good for this kind of a value. This “Non-Vintage” is in fact a combination of wines exclusively from the 2001 and 2002 vintages. The initial two years spent on the lees and ten-plus years of aging help showcase not only how incredibly well-made these wines are but the stunning complexity they develop and hold onto as they grow up. Notes of fresh lavender mix playfully with heady orchard fruits. The palate is bready, rich, creamy, and brilliant. If you find yourself in Paris, make sure to stop by the Cave Fleury on the Rue St. Denis for a sampling of their range. Otherwise, you can find it all here. This stuff is shamelessly good.
To cap the meal I highly recommend a tipple from the spirits bar. Something satisfying on its own but relatively light and refreshing is in order. For this, look no further than our own exclusive Single Cask Alambic Brandy from the legendary and inimitable Germain Robin. Best enjoyed neat as a slow sipper on this occasion.
Staff Pick Notes: Hubert Germain-Robin has made a name for himself by creating some of the highest-quality brandies in the world. Originally from an old Cognac family, he migrated to California in search of a new place to practice his craft. While remaining “old world” in most ways, his innovations came from focusing on high-quality single grape varietals coming from single vineyards to create spirits of purity and distinction. We are honored to follow that philosophy with a single-barrel bottling. Gorgeous honey, citrus zest, toasted almonds, Anjou pear, pure vanilla, and a hint of musk absolutely radiate from the glass and come together harmoniously on the palate wrapped up in a warm spiciness that lingers on the finish. There are worlds of other things going on, too. Simply put, it is hard to match in character and quality. Very highly recommended.