It’s hard to believe that summer has already begun. That’s not to say it hasn’t been feeling pretty summer-ish with the hot, muggy days we’ve been having here in Chicago. But perhaps it’s just that fleeting nature of spring that makes me regard the first, fresh, local produce it yields as bordering on sacred.
I wasn’t expecting to find those spring delicacies when Empanada Boy and I finally managed to get ourselves out to the farmer’s market yesterday. We went to the Evanston Farmer’s Market because I’ve regularly been disappointed by the representation and prices at the Green City Market, which is Chicago’s primary location. There is also free parking in Evanston, which is a definite plus.
To put it bluntly, we spent a lot of money. We started with croissants for breakfast and then bought a loaf of bread. Our other purchases included succulent Michigan strawberries, a raw milk aged cheddar, beets, rhubarb, organic ground lamb, a basil plant, asparagus and morel mushrooms. Of all the items we purchased, it was these last two that represented the last vestiges of spring. I decided to highlight them in a delicious risotto from the April, 2006 issue of Gourmet . It’s a perfect way to bid farewell to the last season and usher in the new.
Risotto with Asparagus and Morel Ragout
3/4 oz dried morel mushrooms (1 cup) or 1/4 lb fresh
6 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 lb medium asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1-inch-long pieces (about 3 cups)
1/2 small onion, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/4 oz) plus additional for serving
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup frozen baby peas
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
If using dried morels, soak in warm water to cover 30 minutes. Agitate dried morels in soaking water or fresh morels in cold water to dislodge grit, then lift from water, squeezing out excess. Pat dry with paper towels. Cut morels (fresh or dried) crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Bring broth and water to a boil in a 4-quart pot. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain and pat dry. Reserve 1 cup broth mixture for ragout and keep remaining broth at a bare simmer.
Cook onion in oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup hot broth mixture and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding hot broth mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is just tender and creamy-looking, 18 to 22 minutes. (There will be leftover broth mixture. Reserve for thinning risotto.)
Stir cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper into risotto, then remove from heat and let stand, covered, while making ragout.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sautÃ© morels and garlic, stirring occasionally, until garlic is pale golden, about 4 minutes. Pour in 1 cup reserved broth and bring to a boil. Stir in peas, asparagus, zest, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons butter, swirling skillet until butter is incorporated, then season ragout with salt and pepper.
Thin risotto to desired consistency with some of leftover broth and season with salt and pepper. Divide risotto among 4 shallow bowls. Spoon asparagus and morel ragout (with liquid) on top and sprinkle with chives.
Dried morels can be soaked and patted dry 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.