MARIO BATALI: Key to stress-free risotto: Know when to leave it alone

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Q: What's your favorite risotto flavor?

A: My vegetable of choice depends entirely on what's in season and at the height of its flavor. At the beginning of spring, that often means asparagus, known as a sign of spring since the time of Imperial Rome.

Risotto is not the high-maintenance dish it's made out to be. The anxiety surrounding the cult of risotto originates from one of the most common errors of a household cook: his inability to let things sit. Heat transfer is very simple and does not require much shaking or mixing. Simply stir and walk away. If you stir risotto six times during the 25-minute cook time, you're in the clear.

Risotto is one of few dishes for which I'm a big fan of butter. I start with equal parts butter and olive oil. Introduce the dry rice to the warm lipids, allow the grains to become translucent, then opaque, and then start to add your liquid. Add a little acidity in the form of white wine, cook it out, and then feed water or broth at regular intervals. The slow introduction of the liquid will give the finished dish its al dente quality.

We add the flavor at the very last second to preserve the bright green of the vegetable. I use asparagus in two forms: raw and as a puree.

The most important part of the cooking process is the manticare, the "beating in." Once it's almost done and off the heat, add the cheese and the butter.

Asparagus Risotto

Serves 3-4.

1 pound asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved

5 to 6 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 medium red onion, diced

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice, or carnaroli if you can find it

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add just enough water to allow machine to puree until smooth. Set aside.

Heat the stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion, stirring occasionally until soft but not yet brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add a large pinch of salt. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.

After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 25 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in 1/2 cup asparagus puree. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.

(Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 24 restaurants, including Eataly, Del Posto and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Follow Mario on Twitter @mariobatali. Keep asking!)

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