Melbourne restaurant Il Bacaro, a perennial business-lunch spot, has had a few owners, but Joe Mammone and Graeme Ballentine are the guys responsible for the long, consistent run it’s enjoyed this millennium.
“We try and sit down every month and go over menu ideas, discuss what’s in season and what worked well last year versus this year,” Mammone says. “The asparagus risotto is one that always seems to come back. It’s a bit different – it’s not your standard porcini mushroom risotto.”
The key to a good risotto is letting the rice fully absorb all the cooking liquid, and not over-cooking the rice. Like pasta, it should retain some bite (al dente). The ideal consistency is all'onda (“wavy”), with a creamy texture from the starches in the rice.
Asparagus, Pea and Broad Bean Risotto, by Il Bacaro
Preparation time time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes
4 bunches asparagus
⅛ bunch basil, picked
250ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
200g fresh peas, podded (or frozen, blanched and refreshed in cold water)
200g broad beans, peeled and podded
200g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
300g carnaroli rice
¼ bunch mint, picked and chopped
⅛ bunch basil, picked and chopped
1 punnet micro red shiso leaves (optional)
Sea salt to taste
Slice the asparagus into quarters and arrange into four separate groups: the bases, the bottom halves of the stalks, the top halves of the stalks and the tips.
Place a medium pot over high heat with 3L of water. Add the asparagus bases and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the stock to cool. Strain the pot and reserve the stock for later use.
Place a medium pot over high heat with 2L of water. Blanch the stalk bottoms for 30 seconds, add the unchopped basil leaves and boil for another 10 seconds. Drain immediately and refresh in iced water. Drain and reserve the basil and asparagus.
Place a small pot over low heat. Add 100ml of olive oil. Add the shallots and garlic and cook gently for 2–3 minutes or until softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Transfer the garlic and shallots to a food processor and add the blanched asparagus and basil. Blitz on medium–high speed until pureed. Add 1–2 tbsp water if too thick. Season to taste and set aside for later.
Preheat the oven to 170°C.
Slice the top quarter of the asparagus stalks into pea-sized pieces. Combine with the peas and broad beans and set aside.
Toss the asparagus tips with some sea salt and olive oil. Bake at 170°C for 6–8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To make the parmesan chips, line a medium-sized tray with greaseproof paper. Sprinkle over 150g of parmesan, ensuring it creates a fine, even layer. Place a tablespoon on each end of the tray to weigh down the paper and prevent it from blowing away in the oven. Bake at 170°C for 6–8 minutes, until the parmesan is a light-golden colour. Remove and allow to cool. Break into shards the size of a 10-cent piece and set aside.
Place a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over low heat and add 100ml of olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add the rice and increase the heat to medium. Stir the rice for 2 minutes, until it is well coated with the oil. Ensure the rice does not colour.
Add 2L of asparagus stock and stir. Continue to stir until it begins to boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and add the sliced asparagus, peas and broad beans. Simmer for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more asparagus stock if the risotto begins to look dry.
Check the rice to see if it’s cooked. It should be soft but not mushy. Season to taste, remove from the heat and add 50ml olive oil, 50g parmesan, chopped mint and chopped basil.
Stir well, combining the cheese and oil with the rice. Add some more asparagus stock if necessary. Continue to stir vigorously, until a creamy consistency is reached. Check seasoning again.
Divide the risotto between four plates. Drizzle the asparagus puree over the top of each plate and top with the roasted asparagus tips, parmesan chips and micro shiso.
This is an extract from The Broadsheet Italian Cookbook, which features 80 recipes from Australia's best restaurants, cafes and bars.