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Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Mushroom Asparagus Risotto

Holy crap, it’s cold. I mean, for D.C. And dark. It’s dark, too. What better time then, to have some friends over and huddle around the stove stirring a delicious pot of risotto? Done and done. Since our guests were mostly veggie, I even made veggie stock from scratch. (Yes, that light you see is my halo glowing.)
Fortunately, the effort involved in risotto is quite a convivial one, and I don’t think anyone suffered for having to keep me company in the kitchen as the rice made its magical transformation into silky wonderfulness. You could go wild with the additions, of course, but having made several risottos in the past few weeks, I can say with confidence that a few judiciously chosen ingredients of quality is better than several. Here, woodsy mushrooms and bright, verdant asparagus and depth and perfume. A little lemon zest at the end could be nice too, but then I think a little lemon zest improves just about anything.

Shiitake Mushroom & Asparagus Risotto
Yield: ~4-6 servings

1 1lb bunch asparagus
2 generous tsp vegetable oil
3/4 lb shiitake mushrooms

2 tbs unsalted butter
1 medium onion
2 c Arborio rice
1 tsp thyme
1 c dry white wine
~6-8 c stock
~1 c grated Parmesan cheese (fluffily, on a Microplane, unpacked)
salt
freshly ground black pepper

Trim tough, woody ends from the asparagus and cut into 1″ lengths. Steam over boiling water till just tender, about 4min depending on the age and girth of your asparagus, and then shock in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. Set aside.

Heat the stock over medium heat and keep at a bare simmer on the stove.

While the stock is warming, wipe off the mushrooms and cut off the tough stems. (If using a vegetable stock, trim off the bottoms of the stems and throw them into the stock as it’s warming for a bit of extra flavor.) Slice the cleaned and trimmed mushroom caps into 1/4″ strips. In a large, shallow pan or dutch oven, warm the oil over high heat till it shimmers and then add half of the mushrooms. Saute vigorously for about 5-6 minutes. Toss the mushrooms about gently with a wooden spoon as they first absorb all the oil, then get all shimmery, the release all their liquid, and finally reduce down to deep brown tastiness. Remove the cooked mushrooms to a plate and repeat with remaining mushrooms. Set aside.

Clean out your large, wide pan and add the butter. Melt over medium heat. While the butter melts, mince the onion. Add to the butter and saute till translucent, about 4-5 min. Add the thyme and rice and saute a few minutes more, till the grains are evenly coated in the butter and are happily glistening. Add the wine and stir gently till absorbed. Add the hot stock, a ladle or so at a time, and stir. Wait till stock has been absorbed before adding the next ladleful. After about 20 min of stirring and stock-adding, the rice should be just tender–with no hard opaque core–and ensconced in a creamy but not sticky sauce. (If you end up with the stickies, add a little more stock and hustle it to the table.) Reserve excess stock, or just use hot water if you run out.

Quickly stir in the reserved mushrooms, asparagus, and the grated Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine and heat through, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately on warmed plates with extra Parmesan on the side.

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