Every cook has a secret ingredient that she liberally adds to everything. Mine is lemon zest. It works like a charm on savory as well as on sweet.
And most of all I like it with ricotta. Because lemon zest is to ricotta like chocolate is to strawberries - a match made in heaven.
So, when someone asked me recently to teach them to make "risotto with lemon and asparagus" I knew I would add ricotta and Ricotta Salata to the mix.
You might be wondering what's the difference between the two ricottas. Well, Ricotta Salata is a sheep milk cheese, which is cured in brine until it is semi-hard and salty. The more familiar fresh ricotta traditionally is made of cows, buffalo, or sheep milk. The fresh cheese curds are filtered through a cheesecloth and we eat them right away. No aging required. The result is the familiar, creamy, sweet ricotta.
Asparagus season has started earlier than usual this year. So let's celebrate it with a recipe that'd make you forget why it started so early (i.e. climate change).
Risotto with Asparagus and Lemon
One bunch fresh asparagus, crowns separated from stems, stems cut into ½-inch pieces
One medium onion, chopped
Two tablespoons butter
2 cups carnaroli or Arborio rice
One teaspoon grated lemon zest
1½ cups white wine
3-4 cups chicken stock; water; or a vegetarian stock made of carrots, celery, onions, and spring vegetables, kept on a simmer
½ to ¾ cup grated Ricotta Salata
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ cup fresh ricotta
Two teaspoons grated lemon zest
Keep the crowns of the asparagus and the stems separate. Blanch stems and then crowns. Drain well and set aside (see note below).
Finely chop the onion. In a 2½- to 3-quart heavy saucepan cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter over moderate heat, occasionally stirring, until softened.
Add rice and lemon zest, stirring to coat with butter.
Add wine and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a simmer, until absorbed.
Continue cooking at a simmer and adding broth, about a half cup at a time. Stir frequently and let each addition be absorbed before you add the next. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy looking but still al dente at the center, about 18 minutes total.
Stir in Ricotta and Ricotta Salata, Parmigiano-Reggiano, lemon zest, blanched asparagus stems, remaining tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat until creamy, about three minutes.
What is your secret ingredient?
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