It’s January. This is Wisconsin. It’s in the single digits outside. I
am not a huge fan of hate winter.
At times like these, I start fantasizing—in earnest—about spring. Among my favorite “spring things” (in no particular order) are: 1) the first crocuses poking their fragile heads through the snow, 2) the emergence of my neighbors from hibernation, 3) the return of the outdoor Dane County Farmers’ Market, and 4) asparagus. #3 and #4 are closely intertwined because asparagus is one of the first items of produce to hit the stands at the farmers’ market.
And so, when I found myself staring at an uncharacteristically gorgeous bunch of asparagus in my local grocery’s produce section in the middle of January, I decided to snap it up and use it in a new recipe. “At least it can taste like spring,” I told myself.
I give you Asparagus Orzotto.
Orzotto is every bit as delicious and fancy-pants as risotto—only much faster and hands-off to make. Win-win. All told, this asparagus orzotto takes about 30 minutes. The recipe includes saffron: not only does it impart a gorgeous, bright-yellow hue to the orzotto, but it also lends a subtle-but-delicious, hard-to-pin-down flavor in the background.
A couple of notes on making the asparagus orzotto: 1) I had envisioned making this dish with pancetta rather than prosciutto, but reconnaissance at the deli counter failed to turn any up. How does a grocery not have pancetta?! (I’m looking at YOU, Pick ‘n’ Save!) 2) I par-cooked the asparagus, stirring it in when the orzotto had finished cooking. 3) Just before plating, I stirred in a good amount of Parmesan cheese.
Finally, I arranged some asparagus tops I’d set aside so everything looked pretty and springy and…
Not like the dead of winter.
You can be sure I’ll be among the first in line this spring, when, at long last, the Dane County Farmers’ Market returns to Capitol Square and the first asparagus hits the stands.
- 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 5 saffron threads
- 1 lb. asparagus, woody ends removed and sliced into 1" lengths (keep tops separated)
- 2 shallots, finely minced
- ⅛ lb. prosciutto or pancetta, chopped
- 1 cup orzo
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- ¼ tsp. salt, or to taste
- ⅛ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- Bring a pot with 4 quarts of water and 3 tbsp. salt to a boil. Add the chicken stock to a saucepan over medium heat. Boil the asparagus in the salted water for about 2½ minutes, then add the tips and boil for an additional minute or so, until everything is crisp-tender. Drain the asparagus and add it to an ice water bath for 1-2 minutes. Drain off the ice water and toss the asparagus with 1 tbsp. of the oil. Set aside.
- Crumble saffron threads into the simmering chicken stock. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, sauté shallots and prosciutto in the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil for 2 minutes or until shallots are softening and translucent. Add the orzo, continuing to sauté for 2 additional minutes.
- Add the wine, stirring until wine is completely absorbed.
- Gradually add the chicken stock in a slow, steady stream, stirring until all stock is added to the pan. Add salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, or until it's soft enough to suit your taste. Note: if the orzo has completely absorbed the stock but is still chewy, add ¼ cup water (or as needed) and continue to cook until the additional liquid is absorbed and the texture is right (the orzotto should be creamy, but not gluey at all).
- Reserve some asparagus tops for garnish. Stir remaining asparagus into the orzotto and remove pot from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and black pepper. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and additional freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with the reserved asparagus tops. Enjoy!
Ugh. I’ve had a lifelong aversion to these taproots. To me, they taste like mud and I have happily avoided them for half of my life. Here, I revisit my vegetable nemesis, creating a salad that goes a long way toward rebuilding our relationship
Garlic scapes have a light, verdant garlic flavor and are delicious substituted in just about any recipe for which you’d use garlic.
A delicious beef and spiralized kohlrabi noodle stir-fry. Yummy and filling, but without all the added carbs of rice or pasta noodles.
This post is in anticipation of the return of the Farmers’ Market and one of the first seasonal items that hit the produce stands.