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Spring Risotto with Asparagus Pesto

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Recipe adapted from Lori Frederich's onmilwaukee.com.

When asparagus is used in dishes, it is typically for some type of side dish or garnish, but for this risotto, it gets to take the leading role as a non-traditional spring pesto.  For the pesto, I used slivered almonds rather than the commonly used pine nuts mainly due to their availability and affordability.  Also, if you'd like to make this 100% vegetarian, feel free to substitute the chicken stock for vegetable stock for a similar result.


Asparagus Pesto:
1 pound of asparagus, trimmed
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste

Remaining Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Roughly 5 cups chicken stock
1 cup asparagus pesto, divided
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated


Begin by cooking the asparagus in a pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes, straining them, and then transferring them to a bowl of ice water.  This is called blanching, and essentially stops the cooking process and maintains the natural bright green color.  Reserve a handful for garnish, and transfer the remaining asparagus to a food processor along with the spinach, garlic, cheese, and almonds.  Blend until combined, and then while the processor is running, slowly incorporate the olive oil.  Once incorporated, add the lemon juice and salt, and taste to season.  This will make a little more pesto than is needed for this recipe, so feel free to experiment with the extras by tossing with some pasta or using as a spread on your favorite sandwich.

For the risotto, heat the chicken stock on a low heat in a sauce pan.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat, and then add the onion.  After several minutes stir in the rice and stir for a minute, or until the rice is lightly toasted (you'll be able to smell this).  Deglaze the pan by adding the white wine, and then stir in 1/2 cup of the asparagus pesto and 1/2 cup of the warm chicken stock.  As with any other risotto recipe, continue adding more stock, little by little, until the risotto is al dente.  This will take approximately 30 minutes (or about 1 cup of stock every 6 minutes).  Once al dente, turn the heat off and add the remaining 1/2 cup of pesto along with the Parmesan cheese.  Season with salt (if necessary) and pepper, and serve immediately.

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