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Creamy, delicious with “sparks” of flavor from the nutty Parmesan, Risotto is undisputedly one of the classic rice dishes of the world. Recently, out with friends, I spotted a Risotto was on the menu. $17.95 for the basic, with prices escalating dependent on the “add ins.” Tempted to try it to see what wonderment would command such a high price, I decided to go with something that’s not so easy to make at home.

Asparagus Risotto using the Cook's Illustrated's Method

Asparagus Risotto using the Cook’s Illustrated’s Method

Cook’s Illustrated did a Risotto awhile back using a method that eliminates a lot of the standing over and stirring of the traditional risotto method. Not a new concept (home cooks often do this) I was intrigued by their “easy, partially hands off” method and wondered if their scientific approach would improve my risotto. The answer: Yes. You’ll still need to be on hand for the 30 minute cook time, but this recipe allows you to do all the shifting and shuffling necessary to get dinner on the table in between short little stirs, several minutes apart.

Betcha didn’t know that Risotto can be made with plain old rice, wine and grocery store block Parmesan for a total cost of about $3.55. If you’re feeling flush, of course, use the best ingredients you have on hand. If your primary concern is saving money, a Risotto like this could be made with no wine at all. Just use a bit more stock and add about a tablespoon (to taste) of white wine vinegar to finish.

This is a great dish to think about if one has a bit of left over Asparagus on hand, or any appropriate vegetable – you won’t be able to simmer the ends, but it will still be very good. While left overs taste great (usually they need a bit more liquid) but suffer a bit in texture, an even better use for them is Arancini.

Asparagus Risotto, serves 4

  • 1 bunch of Asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup Arborio rice (or substitute)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (or substitute)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Prep your asparagus:  Prepare the asparagus by breaking off and discarding the tough ends – take one or two spears and hold near the tip and the end and bend. It will naturally break at the tough part. Line up the tip ends with the rest of the asparagus and slice through them all at once. Don’t worry about waste, you’ll toss those tough ends in your stock.

Cut the rest into 1 to 1 1/2-inch pieces (tips longer, base shorter.) Set the tips aside.  If your asparagus are especially large, cut into even smaller (bite-size) pieces.

In a 3 or 4 quart heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 3 Tbsp butter on medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes until translucent. Add salt and pepper. Add the rice and cook for 3 minutes or so, stirring until nicely coated in the oil and becoming translucent around the edges.

While the onions and rice are cooking, bring the stock and tough asparagus ends to a simmer in a saucepan, and cook the asparagus. Don’t discard the cooking water yet, you may need to add it to the risotto if you need more liquid.

Add the wine to the rice. Slowly stir, allowing the rice to absorb the wine. Once the wine is almost completely absorbed, add 3 cups of the hot stock and stir, and continue to stir now and then (once every three of four minutes) for about 12 minutes until most of the stock is absorbed and the bottom is nearly dry. Use a whisk if using regular old rice.

Now add more stock in 1/2 cup increments to the risotto, stirring gently for about 3 minutes until the liquid is nearly absorbed. Repeat until rice is al dente, an additional three or four times. This should take about 15 minutes. (If your rice is absorbing the stock faster or slower than three minutes, adjust your heat.)

When finished, remove from heat. You want to end up with al dente rice and a creamy sauce – it will thicken a bit more when you add the Parmesan.

Note the stock amount given is approximate. You may need a little more or less. If you end up needing more stock and you find yourself without, just use water or the cooking water from the asparagus.

Gently stir in the Parmesan cheese, the remaining 1 teaspoon butter, and the asparagus. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add additional stock or liquid from asparagus if it needs to be moistened. Serve immediately.

Left Overs?

Left over Risotto? Try Arancini di Riso – some things are even better the second time around!

Arancini - here with a Red Onion Marmalade

Arancini – here with a Red Onion Marmalade

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my Strategies – You’ll see them all explained on the upper left tab of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied

  • Asparagus:  Varies wildly in price and condition in most areas of the country.  At it’s best in the spring, the price drops to around $1.99 a bunch. I have seen it once for $1.49 a bunch one time in the past few years and that was several weeks ago.  I find the fresh so much better than the frozen, I don’t ever buy it any other way. If Asparagus is not at a great price, use something else…peas, perhaps.
  • Olive Oil:  If you’ve been reading my blog, you should have the olive oil info down by now, but just in case:  Buy small bottles with coupons when they are on sale.  Look for two for one sales and use a coupon on each bottle if your store allows it, and definitely use it on you store’s double coupon days if you have them.  I plan on paying about 8 cents an ounce.  You can find coupons often on coupons sites, manufacturer sites and even on hang tags for pasta in your store.  Cost:  16 cents.
  • Onion:  I have an Aldi’s in my area and have found the prices for onion generally beat my store price.  Do try to stock up during the fall and winter when prices are cheaper and keep in a cool dark place.  They won’t last forever, but if you check them and use them regularly, you’ll save a bit of money.  At the current pricing, 66 cents a pound, a 1/2 onion (an average onion is about 5 ounces) is 10 cents.  Keep the other half wrapped in plastic wrap – I put it in my fridge door so I see it easily and remember to use it.
  • Arborio Rice:  This confounds my less cheap family – I use regular rice in my risotto. I think it turns out just fine, and no one I’ve ever served it to has noticed a difference. I just stir it pretty vigorously at the beginning to get the starches going.  I was lucky enough to have saved multiple coupons for Riceland Rice last year, and combined with my store’s sales, I picked up a lot for free. Even if you don’t have “free” rice, it’s only pennies for a cup. I’ll use the average 8 cents a cup price here, just in case you don’t have it in your pantry for no cost.
  • Dry White Wine:  You can pick up very inexpensive wines on sale, generally you’ll find fall and spring sales.  You can buy multiple bottles for a case discount, too.  I find if I shop carefully and ask someone in the store who knows his/her stuff, I can find something quite adequate for about $2.99.  That will cost you about 45 cents for this recipe.  I’ve had no problem using leftover wines in recipes – I’ll keep a bottle, sometimes, for several weeks before it’s used up.  If you don’t want to bother with the wine, try using chicken stock in place of the 1/2 cup liquid, then add about a teaspoon and a half of white wine vinegar at the end of the cooking process.  You could also add a tablespoon of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water in place of the 1/2 cup wine.  I’ve seen many risotto recipes that don’t use wine at all; it does add a certain something, though, and almost all recipes that don’t use wine use something with a bit of acid for brightness. Cost with wine: 45 cents.
  • Chicken Stock:  Again, I make my Chicken Stock from bones and scraps that I save.  I don’t count it as costing anything, although I do suppose the small flame for simmering (not much higher than a pilot light) costs something…I freeze for use later.  If you don’t use all the chicken stock for this recipe, try adding it to your cooking liquid for vegetables later in the week.  Cost:  Zero.
  • Butter:  It’s generally $1.99 on sale in my area. I try to stock up around any holidays, and am hoping it will drop down next week before Easter. One teaspoon is 2 cents.
  • Parmesan:  Now here is where you could go very frugal with the canned, which I can generally pick up on a Kraft special with a coupon for about $1.00.  1/2 cup is about 5 cents.  If you buy ‘cheap’ parm from the store (coupons are far and few between) in our area you’ll pay about $5.99 a pound. I’d use about 1.5 ounces for this recipe so the cost is around 56 cents.

Nutritional Information:

This is a meatless meal, but still has almost 16 grams of protein (30 percent of your needs if you’re on a 2,000 calorie diet.)  Cal:  389; Cal from fat:  183; Tot Fat:  13.8 g; Sat Fat:  8g; Chol:  39g; Sodium:  940g; Tot Carb: 44g; Fiber: 1.41; Sugar: 2.36; Prot: 16g.

Put Your Own Spin on it: 

This recipe is so versatile and can be varied so many ways that the sky is the limit.

  • Any manner of vegetables can be stirred in to suit the season.  As a matter of fact, I often make risotto when I have leftover vegetables – I especially love it with leftover lima beans.  (Favas are more traditional, and a splurge for me, but I’ll do that sometimes, too.)  Peas are wonderful, too.
  • You can make your risotto with or without wine, you can add saffron or even other spices.  You can go rogue and make up your own flavors!  It’s wonderful made with pancetta or bacon, too.  You can even make it in a pressure cooker in minutes like I most often do.  It freezes beautifully, by the way, for short periods of time.

My Pay Off:

Asparagus Risotto is a healthy no meat meal on the table in 30 minutes – who can complain about that?  It tends to impress people, as well….what’s Italian for “Oooh, la la?”

Asparagus Risotto made March 2012, priced $3.85. Remade March 2014 for $3.36. The difference – I’ve become better at judging when Asparagus is at it’s best pricing and taking advantage of it then, and I found a Parmesan at the grocery for $5.99 a pound instead of $7.99 a pound.

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