asparagus

I wasn’t raised in a household where meatless meals were a priority. I can probably count on one hand the meals that didn’t feature meat in some way that were served on the kitchen table growing up. I’m not complaining about the sorts of dishes that my mother served, and I’m sure that I’m not in the minority — raised alternately on some combination of meat-and-potatoes and fish-and-rice –but when I set out to make more meatless meals at home, I was at a bit of a loss. Alternate sources of protein like tofu were unfamiliar to me, and while I later realized how much I liked lentils, my mother hated them, which meant that until I was about 15, I had never seen a lentil before. In the early days, my first instinct was to throw an egg on it. Roasted, sautéd or steamed, I would make up a big plate of veggies, and when I was done, I would fry an egg and throw it on top. Voilà: dinner.

I’ve since deviated frequently from this former standby to include a great variety of meatless meals in my repertoire, but the simplicity of the concept is by no means absent from my menu rotation. Especially when all I want to do is feature the best in seasonal vegetables, I find myself relying on the old mantra: throw an egg on it. Which, incidentally, is how this risotto was born. A simple combination of only the best in seasonal vegetables, stirred into a creamy rice and accompanied by the bright yellow, perfectly runny yolk of a free range egg, this dish is pure bliss.

Spring Vegetable Risotto

1 pound green asparagus
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 pound green peas
1 shallot, minced
2 cups short-grain rice
1/4 cup white wine
3 cups warmed vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 eggs
salt to taste
fresh black pepper 
5-6 leaves fresh basil, chiffonnade 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim the woody ends of the asparagus and break the remaining stalks into 2-3 pieces. Toss with the olive oil and salt to taste. Lay in a baking dish and roast, tossing occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saucepan with high sides over medium heat. Add the peeled, smashed clove of garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to turn golden. Remove and discard. Add the peas and salt to taste. Cook 2-3 minutes, until the peas are just cooked through. Use a skimmer to remove the peas, leaving the butter behind. Reserve to the side.

Add the shallot to the butter remaining in the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the rice and cook until translucent. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and cook, stirring consistently, until the wine is evaporated.

Add the stock by the ladleful until the rice is cooked but still al dente, about 20 minutes. Add the cooked asparagus and their juices as well as the reserved peas to the risotto. Stir to combine. Cover the pot and set aside.

In a frying pan, heat the oil and crack the four eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the white is cooked through, about 4 minutes, or until your preferred doneness.

Add the reserved butter, parmesan and basil to the risotto. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately in soup plates, topped with an egg.

Image: Alice Carrier