Over the past month in Venice we have watched Spring blossom. The days, one by one, have grown noticeably longer and warmer. Wild asparagus and artichokes have crept onto the market stalls. From my bedroom window, I can spot lemons growing on the trees in the garden. These little things are the insignia of Spring. Like panettone at Christmas, or pink peonies in June. Blink and you miss it. Soon it will be time for summer: steaming hot days, homemade white peach ice tea and dark chocolate ice cream.
That distinctive change in season is so precious. Year on year, comfortingly the same, yet always unique. I become fascinated by the tiny details: ‘the melons are much sweeter this year’, ‘the artichoke season seems to have started earlier than I remember’. Risotto alla Primavera (or Spring Vegetable Risotto) celebrates all elements of spring. It is a light risotto, creamy rice and parmesan with mixed green vegetables that – in a perfect world – you might imagine picking from your own vegetable patch. Garden peas, zucchine with vibrant saffron coloured flowers, wild asparagus. When cooking in England, I toss in a few broad beans or green beans, as they come into season. All in one big pot.
The moment when you add the vegetables to the pot and watch them turn a verdant shade of green, as they cook, is like a culinary metaphor for Spring itself: one fleeting burst of brilliant colour.
PS Exciting news: I fly to Portugal tomorrow to take part in a workshop with the lovely Beth of Local Milk and Sanda of Little Upside Down Cake. I’m going to be taking a few days off from posting while I’m there. But photos and updates aplenty on social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter). Please come find me there! More recipes and musing here next week. And in the meantime, try this recipe for oven baked fresh lemons and my favourite summer berry dish.
Risotto alla Primavera con Profumo di Menta
(Spring Vegetable and Fresh Mint Risotto)
The key to a really good risotto is a good stock. I like to boil the stalks from the asparagus with the stock powder to give it extra flavour.
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
2 tbsps olive oil
600g arborio rice (risotto rice)
250ml white wine
small bunch (roughly 20 stems) of fresh asparagus
I medium courgette
120g fresh garden peas
1.2l vegetable stock
60g grated parmesan
small bunch of fresh mint
Chop the heads off the asparagus and set them to one side, then toss the stalks (still whole) into a saucepan and add just over 1.2l of water, bring slowly to the boil and allow to simmer slowly while you go about making the risotto. You can then use this water to make your stock and the asparagus will give it some extra flavour. If you are pressed for time, however, then skip this step and make the stock up as per the instructions on the box. Roughly chop the zucchini, shell the peas and set them to one side along with the asparagus head. You want to add them to the risotto once the rice is mostly cooked, otherwise the vegetables will overcook and lose all their fresh flavour. Roughly chop the onion and add it to a heavy based saucepan with the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Set over a low to medium heat and cook gently until the onion becomes translucent and soft. Then turn up the heat, add the rice and stir for a minute until all the rice is coated in oil, pour in the white wine and stir again for a few minutes until the wine largely evaporates. Now, turn the heat down to medium-low. Crumble your stock cube into the boiling water with the asparagus stalks to make your stock, stir until dissolved and keep it on a gentle boil. Slowly begin to add the stock to the saucepan of risotto, ladle by ladle, stirring constantly between each ladleful and waiting for all the stock to be absorbed before adding more.When the rice has been cooking for 15 minutes or so – it should begin to swell and take on that creamy texture of risotto – now, add the vegetables. Continue stirring and adding the stock bit by bit until the rice is cooked. Then just before serving, grate the parmesan, chop the mint and stir into the risotto.