Posts Tagged ‘asparagus’

Remembering Italy #3 — asparagus & prosciutto risotto

San Daniele del Friuli is a beautiful little community about 20 kilometers southwest of the big industrial city of Udine, located in the hill country where dry-aged hams are a tradition. Making prosciutto is the principal business of the town – perhaps followed by eating it. Even some of the flower planters in town are in the shape of pigs.

Although the Friulani love their asparagus (see my posts from May 2009), the only time I’ve ever eaten asparagus risotto in Friuli, it was made with white asparagus. The Friulani version was silken and smooth and very pale. Oddly enough, I had often been served cold steamed asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and Pat and I wondered why we’d never seen a risotto that combined the two. Since we had some extra prosciutto di San Daniele available, I thought I’d see how the delicate ham would be in risotto with Grana Padano, a more understated grating cheese than Parmigiano. Local asparagus isn’t in season, but I was lucky to get some plump, crisp spears that had just come off the plane from Peru.

We were pleased to discover that as long as neither the asparagus nor the prosciutto is overcooked, this recipe makes a risotto in which all the elements — the prosciutto, the cheese, the rice, the asparagus, and the stock — not only retain their individual flavors and identities, they combine into a delicious, harmonious risotto. We’ll certainly be eating it again.

This is another pressure-cooker risotto, but can be made conventionally by steaming the asparagus for five minutes, and cooking the risotto while constantly stirring and adding liquid for 20-25 minutes. If doing it conventionally, you’ll need another half cup of stock.

ASPARAGUS & PROSCIUTTO RISOTTO

Ingredients

1/4 cup strong chicken stock

1 pound asparagus, cleaned and trimmed

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup strong chicken stock plus reserved liquid from steaming
4 slices prosciutto di San Daniele, cut into 1/4-inch squares
2 oz. Grana Padano cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 unpacked cup)

Directions

1. Place rack in 3.5 liter pressure cooker and add 1/4 cup chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Place asparagus spears on rack, close pressure cooker, and steam 60 seconds. Quick cool pot and remove asparagus. Cut into 1-inch lengths and reserve. Pour off steaming liquid and reserve.

2. Wipe out pot. Add olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add rice and stir well to coat with oil. Turn heat up to high and add wine, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed (about 90 seconds).

3. Add chicken stock and liquid reserved from steaming asparagus; stir well. Secure lid on pressure cooker and bring up to pressure. Cook for 7 minutes before quick-cooling pot to remove lid.

4. Place pot back on low heat and stir. (The risotto should be soupy and the rice slightly too firm.) Add asparagus and prosciutto. Stir to mix thoroughly and continue stirring over low heat for 1 minute.

5. Remove from heat and stir in Grana Padano, blending well.

6. Divide risotto into two 16- to 20-ounce shallow bowls and serve.

14

12 2012

More asparagus recipes from Friuli

Perhaps I have such an affinity for Friuli because I lived for more than a decade in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, where Hadley asparagus, grown on the rich riverbank soils of the Connecticut River, is some of the finest “grass” in the U.S. I’m in Cambridge now, but I still gorge on Hadley asparagus during the short May season.

For the last couple of years I have worked to adapt recipes from an authoritative Friuli book on the subject called simply Asparagi 103 ricette by gourmand Antonio Boemo. It just might be the final word in great asparagus cookery, featuring recipes from some of Friuli’s finest chefs. (Thanks, Bepi Pucciarelli, for finding the out-of-print book and helping with the translations.) Here are a couple of my favorite Friuli-style treatments of Hadley asparagus.

SEA SCALLOP AND ASPARAGUS TAGLIATELLE
This can also be made with small in-shore scallops, but the plate looks less dramatic. This dish was adapted from Vanni Aizza of Ristorante La Columbara in the amazingly ancient village of Aquilea (via Zilli 34, +39 0432-910-513). It serves 6 as a pasta course.

Ingredients

6 large sea scallops (about 1/2 lb)
1 lb fresh asparagus
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1 cup light cream
salt
1 lb fresh tagliatelle or linguine
pepper

Directions

1. Bring large pot of salted water to boil.

2. Clean the scallops and asparagus, removing tough ends from asparagus and peeling spears if they are large. Cut asparagus into 1-inch lengths.

3. Add olive oil to a deep skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and brown lightly. Add scallops and sear on one side (30 seconds). Turn over and sear on other side (30 seconds). Add wine to pan. Remove scallops and set aside.

4. Add chopped asparagus and parsley to pan and saute, turning often, for about 7 minutes or until cooked al dente. Add cream to pan and stir well to mix. Bring to full boil for 1 minute. Add scallops and boil two more minutes. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

5. While scallops are cooking, add pasta to pot of boiling salted water and cook 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Drain.

6. Toss pasta with asparagus-scallop sauce, dust with a few grinds of black pepper, and serve.

——-

RUSSIAN SALAD WITH ASPARAGUS AND MUSHROOMS

This is a Friuli version of a classical banquet dish that celebrates the spring mushrooms and asparagus of the Friulian woods and fields. We have some pretty terrific spring mushrooms in New England, too, but this version employs a mix of grocery store fungi. It’s adapted from the recipe by Ivan Uanetto of Trattoria Da Nando in Mortegliano (Viale Divisione Julia 14, +39 0432-760-187). It serves 6.

Ingredients

1 lb. asparagus, peeled and tough ends removed
1 large waxy potato (Yukon, Red Bliss, etc)
2 tablespoons butter
small onion, minced
1/4 cup flour
12 oz whole milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. white button mushrooms
1/4 lb. oyster, chanterelle or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 large Roma-style tomatoes, peeled
5 hard boiled eggs
chopped parsley

Directions

1. Steam the asparagus until barely cooked (4-5 minutes depending on size). Cool immediately.

2. Cut potato into 1/2 inch cubes and steam until just barely cooked through (7-8 minutes). Cool and set aside.

3. Melt butter over medium heat in 10-inch frying pan. Add minced onion and saute slowly until onion is thoroughly cooked through but not browned. Place flour in mixing bowl and whisk in milk slowly, blending thoroughly. Slowly add milk mixture to onion in frying pan, stirring constantly. Cook until thick (5-7 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let mixture cool.

4. Remove tips from asparagus and set aside. Cut remaining asparagus into 1/2 inch lengths and combine with cooked potatoes. Cut mushrooms, tomatoes, and boiled eggs into similar sized pieces and gently combine with asparagus and potatoes. Mix in dressing and toss gently.

5. Place in serving bowl and lay reserved asparagus points on top. Sprinkle thoroughly with chopped parsley and serve.

19

05 2010

Friuli has the right wine for asparagus


Asparagus is notoriously difficult to pair with wine because sulfur-bearing compounds in the stalks produce a chemical bouquet that clashes mightily with the tannins in red wine or in whites aged in oak. Eat asparagus and drink your average pinot noir or barrel-aged chardonnay and the wine will literally taste like garbage.

The French solve the problem by pairing asparagus with Loire Valley whites or white Sancerre-wines based on Sauvignon Blanc that never see a whiff of oak. But just as Friuli grows some of the best asparagus in Europe (see If it’s asparagus it must be Friuli), the northeast corner of Italy also produces the best wine to pair with it. Since 2008 it’s been on the market as Friulano, though in Friuli some people still call it Tocai Friulano. (The Hungarians got all huffy about “tocai,” so the Italians had to change the name.)

Recent genetic research reveals that Friulano is first cousin to Sauvignon Blanc and is the grape known in France as Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse. In France, it makes a thin wine with a “green” taste. In Friuli, where it’s considered a native grape, it makes a noble, forthright, steely white wine that is the perfect match to asparagus. (The acids also cut nicely through unctuous sauces like hollandaise).

Although Friulano is considered one of the best white wines in all of Italy, it is little known in North America. But I’m beginning to find some examples in better liquor stores near my home in Cambridge. The most intense and steely Friulano comes from the Colli Orientali region on the far eastern edge of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. My favorite is produced by Giorgio Colutta and sold under the Colutta label as Friulano Annata (about $16). Joe Bastianich (son of chef Lidia) also makes a very good version for around $1 more. Both are widely distributed.

15

05 2010

If it’s asparagus it must be Friuli

Guidebooks to Italy have a maddening tendency to completely ignore one of my favorite areas for gastronomic tourism: the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the northeast corner of the country. Sharing a northern border with Austria and an eastern border with Slovenia, Friuli has both a dialect and a cuisine with strong Germanic influences. The local version of Italian is full of the hard Rs and the chewy “sch” sounds of central Europe, and the menus are laden with pork and a bevy of mitteleuropan dumplings masquerading as gnocchi. Many of the dishes draw their depth of flavor from cream, butter, or smoked fish.

Piazza Libertà, Udine

But most food in Friuli is based on whatever is freshest from the fields. Right now that happens to be asparagus. Friuli is famed for growing Italy’s finest asparagus, and during the last half of April through May, every restaurant from the elegant dining rooms in Udine and Trieste to the most casual countryside osterias goes mad for spargs, as asparagus is called in the local dialect.

Many preparations require no recipe. Wherever I go in Friuli this time of year, I find small bundles of lightly steamed asparagus wrapped in the local San Daniele prosciutto and browned in butter. Or just as likely, large plates of steamed white and green asparagus topped with shaved Montasio, the local aged cow’s milk cheese. (The Friulanos grow a lot of white asparagus, too, hilling it up with dirt in the traditional manner rather than growing under black plastic.)

I use the city of Udine as a base for traveling in Friuli, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite restaurant for contemporary cuisine, Trattoria Agli Amici (via Liguria 250, +39 0432-565-411). But when it comes to asparagus cookery, no one matches Trattoria Al Grop in the neighboring village of Tavagnacco (via Matteotti 1, +39 0432-660-240), now run by Simona and Silvia del Fabbro, the fifth generation of the family to operate their temple of asparagus in the shadow of the belltower of Sant’Antonio Abate. In season, they offer a nine-course asparagus menu.

Here’s an adaptation of their dreamy, creamy asparagus soup as made by their mother Angela. She cooks her own cannellini (white kidney beans) from scratch, but canned beans work just as well.

Asparagus and orzo soup

Serves 6 as soup course

Ingredients

2 lb. fresh asparagus
1 16-ounce can of cannellini (white kidney) beans
1 quart beef stock, divided
1/3 cup orzo (rice-sized pasta)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light cream
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil for drizzling

Directions

1. Wash asparagus and snap off about 1 inch from tough ends and discard. Peel asparagus stalks from base to about 1 inch below the flower tips. Break stalks in half.

2 . Break top halves of stalks into short lengths, each about the size of the asparagus tip. Set aside.

3. Chop bottom halves of stalks into short lengths. Add to 4-quart saucepan with the beans and 1 cup of broth. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and puree in food processor or pass though coarse blade of a food mill.

4. Return puree to saucepan and stir in remaining broth. Add asparagus tops, orzo, butter and cream. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 15 minutes.

5. Serve with a fine thread of olive oil on top.

09

05 2010

Making grilled asparagus risotto

Grilled asparagus risotto

Grilled asparagus risotto

Before we bought a pressure cooker, asparagus risotto was one of the few risottos we would bother to make because it’s smoky, luscious, and deeply satisfying. It also pairs nicely with a crisp white wine like a Vermentino from Sardinia. It had become one of our go-to quick dishes, in part because every time we light up the backyard grill, we grill some asparagus, making sure we have enough for dinner and enough left over to chop into salads and to make grilled asparagus risotto. This 2-serving recipe evolved rather radically from the version of non-roasted, non-pressure-cooked asparagus risotto made by Fanny Singer that we found in a 2003 issue of Food & Wine. Cooking time is about 10 minutes—quick food, not fast food.


Ingredients

olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme finely minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups strong chicken stock
1/2 pound leftover grilled asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cups chopped baby spinach leaves (about 3 oz.)
2 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 unpacked cup)
balsamic vinegar for drizzling


Directions
1. In medium-sized pressure cooker, heat oil and sauté onions and thyme until onions are soft. Add rice and stir well to coat.
2. Turn heat up to high and add wine, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed (about 90 seconds).
3. Add chicken stock and stir well. Secure lid on pressure cooker and bring up to pressure. Cook for 7 minutes before quick-cooling pot to remove lid.
4. Place pot back on low heat and stir. (The risotto should be soupy and the rice slightly too firm. Add asparagus and spinach. Stir to mix thoroughly and continue stirring over low heat 90 seconds-2 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, blending well..
6. Divide risotto into two 16-20 ounce shallow bowls. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.

11

11 2009