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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mushroom Risotto with Pan-Roasted Asparagus

Packed with several essential vitamins and minerals made more bioavailable when cooked, asparagus is one of many springtime vegetables that should be enjoyed more often, especially when you can find freshly-harvested varieties at local farmers markets.

The tender stalks, whether thin or thick, make perfect companion to arborio rice prepared into a creamy mushroom risotto. This savory duo is hearty enough to stand alone as a vegetarian or vegan meal (toss in a couple handfuls of spinach to add even more nutrients), but also pairs nicely with rich or braised meats such as lamb, duck, and beef.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus:

  • asparagus*, rinsed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp onion or garlic, minced (optional)

*The amount really depends on how much of a role it plays in the meal and how large the stalks are; less if the stalks are thick or your meal features a meat,
more if the stalks are thin or you're preparing these foods as a vegetarian or vegan meal. I suppose the number of people you're feeding should be considered as well!


Heat your skillet with oil over medium heat. Add your onion or garlic, if using, and cook until beginning to brown. Increase your heat and add your asparagus, making sure to place the stalks in the pan so that they are not touching each other (this reduces the steaming process that might otherwise predominate the roasting we are trying to achieve). With metal tongs or a spatula, flip the asparagus as it begins to brown a bit, about 1-2 minutes after dropping them in the pan; remove from heat when the spears are al dente.

Mushroom Risotto
(makes 2-4 servings)

  • 4 c (32 fl oz) mushroom stock (learn how to make your own stock; suggestions below)
  • 2 c sauteed mushrooms (see ingredients and directions below)
  • 2 tbsp butter or oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 c arborio rice
  • 1-2 c spinach (optional; baby spinach preferred)
  • 1/4+ c grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (omit if making a vegan dish)
  • salt and pepper to taste


Before heating up your skillet, put your stock in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring it to a gentle simmer (this helps the rice more quickly absorb the liquid to maintain the integrity of your grains, a.k.a. it prevents your risotto from becoming too mushy).

In a separate pan, heat your butter or oil over medium heat; add your onion, gently frying it for a minute or two. On very low heat, add your rice, stirring constantly to toast it for about 2-3 minutes. Add 2 cups of your simmering stock and your sauteed mushrooms, gently stirring to incorporate the liquid and rice. You will continue to gradually add the stock to the rice so that it is quickly absorbed, stirring gently, until the stock is completely used up. In total, it should take between 15-20 minutes to make the risotto. Before removing it from the pan, taste your rice to make sure it is al dente; if it still has a bit of crunch to it, heat up and add more stock, or if you ran out, simply use water. If you are using it, fold in your spinach with your last addition of stock. Transfer the risotto to a serving dish and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bon app├ętit!

It's all about the details...

Mushroom Stock:

While you can look back to this post to understand the basics of stock making, here are the ingredients I suggest adding to the pot for this dish:

  • mushrooms, caps and stems (I used crimini and portobello varieties)
  • whole onions
  • whole shallots
  • whole garlic
  • a couple sprigs of fresh thyme
  • pan juices from sauteed mushrooms
  • salt

Sauteed Mushrooms:

I have to admit, I didn't pay attention to the exact measurements of the ingredients, but the image above (what's on the cutting board) is exactly what I used to make the 2+ cups of sauteed mushrooms I added to my risotto. I love mushrooms, so the more the merrier (varieties, too)! If you feel like you have too much to use in your risotto, snack on them while you cook or use them in an omelet, quiche, or sauteed vegetables the following day.

Ingredients (approximations):
  • 4-5 cups crimini mushroom caps, quartered or sliced
  • 2 small or 1 large onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil


Heat your skillet with oil over medium-high heat. Add your onions and garlic, stirring often until beginning to brown. Over medium heat, add your mushrooms and a little more oil, if needed; cook the mushrooms, stirring often, until tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a separate dish until ready for use; pour the pan juices and bits into your mushroom stock pot.

My Two Cents:

I recommend making your sauteed mushrooms and mushroom stock at the same time so you can take advantage of any pan juices. You can also oven-roast your mushrooms and asparagus; for time and convenience, I prefer to use my stove top. I like big chunks of mushrooms in my risotto, so I quarter mine. I used half butter and half olive oil when making the risotto to get a hint of both flavors, and a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to gently fold the stock & spinach into the risotto as it cooks. Assuming you are serving these two sides together, don't bother starting your asparagus until you've just about finished the risotto; the rice can hold for a bit but the asparagus will get cold pretty quickly. Lastly, don't spoil your culinary efforts by overcooking your vegetables, in this case, your asparagus; be sure to increase the heat for quick cooking and assuredly-al dente spears.


Recipe and images by Rebekah Carter (2011).

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