When Natasha of 5 Star Foodie and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks! announced that April’s 5 Star Makeover theme ingredient was white asparagus, my mind began racing with all the ideas of what to make. I had visions of almond-laced white chocolate white asparagus mousse, a delicate cream of white asparagus soup, white asparagus gratin, and the always delicious steamed white asparagus with hollandaise and fresh herbs.
Of course, first I would have to find my white asparagus, which is sometimes easier said than done.
I made a couple of phone calls and luckily found it on the second call I made; it wasn't at my local Wegmans but I found it at a Wegmans only one town over! I got there and was prepared to pay some kind of outlandish price because after all, it is a bit of a specialty ingredient. It turns out that it was a mere $2.99 per pound, the same exact price as regular asparagus! (Wegmans, how I love you.)
With the elusive yet elegant beauty that is white asparagus in hand, I headed home and looked in my fridge for inspiration. There I found leftover risotto, Fontina cheese, and a bunch of scallions…and I knew what I was going to make. ;)
(Yield: 7-8 cakes)
1 ¼ cups prepared risotto, chilled (Basic Risotto recipe below)
½ lb (about 10-12 medium spears) white asparagus, rinsed
1 TB olive oil
2 oz Italian Fontina cheese, grated (a little over ½ cup grated)
2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1 large egg white
¾ cup Panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
Salt and pepper
Canola oil, for shallow frying
Scallion Pistou (recipe below)
Prepare Basic Risotto (recipe below) and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat liner.
To peel and trim the asparagus, lay one asparagus spear on a flat surface, such as a cutting board. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the outer layer starting just below the bud and going all the way down (if the asparagus is particularly thick or looks really tough, you can peel off 2 layers); once peeled, trim off the bottom inch. Repeat this process for all asparagus spears.
Spread the asparagus on the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle on a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss the asparagus around to coat each spear with oil, then arrange in a single layer. Roast until fork-tender and just starting to turn color (about 15 minutes), giving the pan a shake halfway through. Cool completely, then thinly slice.
Put Panko into a shallow bowl. Use your hands to combine risotto, asparagus, cheese, and egg white in a medium bowl. Scoop risotto mixture into ¼ cup balls, flatten each ball into a patty, and roll each patty in Panko (save the extra Panko because you’ll roll the patties again before frying). Transfer the patties to a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Generously coat the bottom of a large, deep-sided skillet with canola oil and turn heat on high. Roll the patties in Panko again. Once oil is hot, turn heat down to medium-high and fry the patties a couple minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy, flipping once. Transfer the patties to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.
Serve with Scallion Pistou (recipe below).
(Yield: About 2 ½ cups; serves 4-6 as a side dish)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup Arborio rice
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice mixed with 2 ½ tablespoons water
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (I grate mine with a microplane and it measures a little over ½ cup grated)
Salt and pepper
Bring chicken stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a separate medium saucepan over medium heat (reserve the remaining 1 tablespoon butter for later). When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook until soft but not brown (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add the rice and a pinch of pepper and cook until slightly browned and nutty smelling (about 3-4 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add the lemon juice/water mixture and cook until evaporated (about 1 minute).
Turn heat down to medium-low. Add ½ cup hot stock to the rice, stirring constantly until the liquid is almost completely absorbed, then adding more stock in the same manner. Continue this way until the risotto is tender with just a slight bite to it (about 20-25 minutes). (You may need slightly more or less liquid to achieve this; if you run out of stock, you can just simmer some water.)
Turn off heat and stir in the cheese and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately, or bring to room temperature and then chill to make risotto cakes.
Scallion Pistou (Inspired by The Epicurian Table)
(Yield: ⅓ cup)
1 small clove garlic, peeled
3 scallions, thinly sliced (white & green parts)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Add garlic and a pinch of salt to a mortar and pestle and crush until it forms a paste.
If you have the time to make it by hand, you can add the scallions and parsley to the mortar and pestle with the garlic/salt paste and grind until it forms a paste-like consistency, then gradually stream in the oil while continuously grinding. Taste and season with salt if desired.
If you’re pressed for time, you can make it in the food processor. Add the garlic paste, scallions, and parsley to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it forms a paste, stopping the motor every so often to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the paste is formed, drizzle in the olive oil with the motor still running. Taste and season with salt if desired.
Serve as a garnish for White Asparagus Risotto Cakes (or on top of any soup you like!).