Although winter isn't quite over yet and still keeps lashing out every couple of days, nevertheless, spring is slowly starting to take over. As my mornings start early these days, it's a welcome change to see the sun rise a little bit earlier with each day. I wanted to do a post on one of those days that starts while others are still asleep, those busy mid-week days when you rarely have a moment to spare and a mountain of duties is waiting to be finished before the day is over. I love making desserts, taking the time to perfect them and enjoy eating them, of course. But I take equally as much pride in the food I make for my family on a daily basis. Work week dinners, although more hectic, are as satisfying to make as are delicate little treats for special occasions.
During the work week it´s all about organizing and planning ahead. I wish I could take it slow and in a leasurely fashion throw something together but it´s just not possible. From the moment I take off my shoes after work I have about an hour until dinner time. So having a plan is the key to save nerves and still produce quality food with limited time. I love using seasonal ingredients. It makes the whole process of cooking and eating so much more vibrant, exciting and delicious. Since moving to France asparagus has really become a spring favourite of mine. It is such an announcer of spring, you know warmer and sunnier days can´t be far when asparagus starts popping up on markets and vegetable stands. I love the bright green color and the fresh flavour makes it the perfect component to balance out the creaminess of risotto. I'm a big fan of risotto and slow cookers in general. It demands constant stirring but other than that is easy to make and on an evening when you are already dreaming of going to sleep, it forces you to take it slow, focus on one thing at a time and just let the heat and stirring work its magic.
The risotto I´m writing about today I've made time and time again, it never dissapoints and it comes with a story. The best risotto I've ever had was on our honeymoon in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a velvety smooth risotto aux truffes. Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a charming French town near the Basque boarder. Among its dreamy coastline and wonderful cuisine it's also the place where Louis XIV married Maria Theresa of Spain. A lovely little detail that made the town that much more romantic for us, it being our honeymoon after all. The wedding ceremony had taken place at the local church of Saint Jean Baptiste, which we happened to visit during a Sunday Mass service. Centuries later the old church was once again buzzing with people, air thick from the burning incense, breathing life into the old stone walls. Not wanting to be disrespectful, we stayed until the end of the service to make our exit.
Small as the town is, there were many people gathering, as they probably do every Sunday in Catholic countries. Neither me or my husband consider ourselves to be religious people. Estonia not being a strongly religious country, I didn´t grow up with the tradition to go to the church very often and although being French, neither did my husband. But we are both fascinated by churches, the architectual beauty of them and the higher power they represent. So whenever travelling or even strolling around Paris, we often step in and light a candle. For me it´s the aspect of ritual that adds a certain charm and mystery to churches. The traditions, repetition of certain words, songs, gestures, it makes it all sacred and magical. And in this there is a similarity with cooking because it´s the repetition of gestures, flavours, combinations that ultimately makes the dish.
For one dinner during our stay we found a tiny restaurant, the kind that fits around 10 tables and is easy to miss from the street. My husband ordered risotto aux truffes and I can´t even remember my order as his risotto turned out to be the highlight of the evening. And the highlight of all the risottos I have tasted. So I wanted to try to recreate some of that magic we had experienced in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The recipe here is a mix of that smoothest risotto ever with a spring touch. To conclude: a creamy risotto with asparagus and truffle salt.
1 tbsp butter
2 shallots (finely chopped)
2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 bunch of asparagus (roughly chopped)
200g arborio rice
1 l vegetable broth
1 tbsp dried parsley
40 g graded Parmesan or Grana Padano
1.5 tsp truffle salt
Melt 1 tbsp of butter in the pan (leave the rest for later) and add the onions on medium-low heat. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the garlic and parsley. Stir through and add the rice. Stir until everything is well coated and the rice has absorbed all the buttery mixture. Start adding the broth 2 tbsp at a time to the rice, stirring until absorbed. Then add the asparagus and truffle salt. Continue adding the broth, stirring after each addition until it has been absorbed. It should take about 20-25 minutes. Finally add the rest of the butter and Parmesan/Grana Padano and stir everything gently together.