My weekly visits to see my mother are very special. When I visit, I might take her shopping, or to a medical appointment or do some work in the vegetable garden. One of my favourite things to do when I visit is to cook with her and then share the meal, usually sitting at the kitchen table in what used to be my father’s spot.
Her cooking repertoire is more limited since my father has passed and she relies on my sister and I to go food shopping. She loves cooking for one or two others though. Sometimes we eat pasta, or soup but she knows that my favourite meal is risotto. She uses whatever she has in the fridge as a base for the risotto. It might be her veal ragù or some leftover peperonata. When she doesn’t have much in the fridge she will use tinned seafood (salmon, mackerel and sardines) or a packet of spinach. Being a veneta, risotto is a staple for her. She must have made it thousands of times – it is creamy just like a risotto should be and always delicious.
After lunch we often play cards, usually a game of Scopa with italian cards – the ones from Trieste. And we have Lavazza coffee, made in a stovetop percolator. She gets out her biscuit tin, and there are generally kiffel in there, which we eat with our coffee. After cards, as I am preparing to leave, she gives me leftovers to take home for Mark to eat, or some lemons from the tree or fresh parsley from the garden. She doesn’t like letting me go empty-handed. And she thanks me profusely for coming, shooing me away from helping her with the dishes. How much I treasure these times with her, my ever-loving mamma, who turns 87 today – buon compleanno mamma!
Asparagus risotto with lemon
1 and 1/2 cups Carnaroli or Vialone nano rice
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed into 5cm/2 inch pieces (keep tips and woody ends separate)
4 cups good quality vegetable or chicken stock
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup unsalted butter, diced
handful fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup grated parmigiano
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Bring the stock to boil in a large pot and drop in the washed woody asparagus ends. Cover and keep at a low simmer. In a medium sized saucepan, heat up a good glug of olive oil and add the onion, cooking on low heat, stirring occasionally until it is translucent (about 8 minutes). Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant. Add the wine and stir, cooking until is has evaporated. Now add the rice and stir, making sure it is well covered by the oil and garlic. Once the rice has warmed through (2-3 minutes), add a ladle of stock (leaving the woody asparagus ends in the stock), stirring occasionally and making sure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add another ladle full of stock, allowing it to be absorbed by the rice and stirring occasionally. Repeat until you have used about 2/3 of the stock (approximately 10 minutes). Now add the asparagus pieces (reserving the tips) to the risotto with the next addition of stock, stir well and allow the stock to absorb. The asparagus tips should be added in the last few minutes of cooking (the last or second last addition of liquid) so they remain quite firm. The rice takes around 18 minutes to cook and should be still slightly firm in the centre when ready. By this time you should have used most or all of your stock (top up with boiling water if you run out). Stir in the butter, allowing it to melt, then stir in half the parsley leaves and the parmigiano and adjust for salt and pepper to taste. Cover and allow to rest for a minute.
Serve on warmed plates, scattering on the lemon zest, the rest of the parsley and extra parmigiano.