RECIPE: Risotto con Asparagi

I was 7 years old, visiting the tiny town where my mother was raised near the Po river in northern Italy.  It was spring, and I still remember the sweet smell of the fruit trees in blossom, the warm afternoon walks through the winding dirt roads, and the frigid crisp water from the natural spring that we would walk to in order to collect our daily supply.

It was during one of these walks that my mother suddenly dropped her water pails. Shouting excitedly in dialect, she disappeared into the foliage alongside the road. She returned a short time later clutching a fistful of what resembled short green wheat stalks.

“Asparagi selvatici,” my mother said. Wild asparagus.

As we walked home with the treasure in hand, my mother explained that as a child, she would spend days foraging these for my Nonna every year. As a child myself, I was not nearly as excited at this discovery as my mother, but my joy would come later that night when I experienced a taste of spring that I would never forget.

Mamma and Nonna spent the day carefully washing and cleaning the asparagus, ensuring not to snap the delicate, tender stems. With great care, patience and uncharacteristic giddiness, the women slowly stirred a pot of rice and stock for what seemed like hours, adding the asparagus right before handfuls of butter and grated cheese. The result was a risotto with a freshness of the earth that I can still recall to this day.

Hailing from the Po Valley, risotto is in my family’s DNA. It was as ubiquitous to their diet as polenta and coppa. My mother and her sisters, like many young girls in the area, worked tirelessly to weed the rice fields during the growing season, and spent many long days shuffling through shin-deep water, hunched over, harvesting the grains by hand. My father’s family would dry the rice, package it, transport it, and sell it at the local outdoor markets. 

Rice has been grown and harvested in the plains surrounding the Po River since the 1450’s and is essential to the region’s agricultural bounty. The soil that surrounds the river is thick with sediment from centuries of water flowing down the river, enriching it with phosphorus and nitrogen. The result is a very dense, compact, and slow draining terrain, with a constant supply of water from the Po – ideal for the cultivation of rice. Chemical fertilization is rarely needed, and the ancient tradition of using animal manure has long since been abandoned.

Although more than a dozen varieties of rice are grown in the Po region, including Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano, currently the only area with IGP designation is in the Po Delta – a small spot where the Po River meets the Adriatic Sea. However, rice from the delta is difficult to find in North America. Currently, more rice producers from around the Po region are in the process of seeking IGP designation.

The name of these mineral-rich plains surrounding the Po River is the Pianura Padana and is where one of the world’s most famous cheeses is produced, Grana Padano. This DOP product is another staple from the region, and has taken its name from the area in which it is made.

The rice, the cheese, the wild asparagus. It all comes together in this classic spring dish that I look forward to making every year. I prepare it simply with a light chicken stock, as my Mamma and Nonna did. Traditionally, Parmigiano Reggiano is used in risotto, but in this dish, a young DOP Grana Padano works better – choose one that has been aged for 12-14 months. The softness and lightness of the Grana Padano complement rather than overpower the delicate sweetness of the asparagus, while providing that harmony of terroir and local authenticity.

When it comes to selecting the rice, any of the better quality Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano work well for this dish, as long as they are cooked slowly and ‘al dente’.

The most important thing when preparing this dish is to have patience. The dish is cooked over low heat, slowly and with great care, delicately stirring your rice so that it cooks evenly without releasing too much of its starch.  So, pour yourself a glass of Nebbiolo, play some Italian music, and enjoy your time in the kitchen creating this classic Risotto con Asparagi.


RECIPE: Risotto con Asparagi

  • Author: Roberto Fracchioni
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes


  • 750g ( Pounds) Asparagus
  • 5 Tbl. Good Quality Olive Oil
  • ½ Piece Onion, Diced Very Small
  • 330g (1½ Cups) Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano Rice
  • 60 ml. (1/4 Cup) Dry White Wine
  • 1.5 Litres  (6 Cups) Light Coloured, Sodium Free Chicken Broth – Hot
  • 50 g. (1/8 Pound) Unsalted Butter – Cut Into  ¼” Cubes
  • 50 g. (1/8 Pound) Grated Grana Padano
  • 1 Pc Lemon


  1. Carefully wash the asparagus, then cut off any of the hard woody stalks.
  2. Cut the asparagus into 1/8” thick rounds, leaving 1” to 1 ½” of the tips of each stalk whole, separating the tips from the rest of the cut pieces of asparagus.
  3. In a large heavy bottom pot over medium low heat, add 2 Tbl. Olive oil and the asparagus tips along with a pinch of salt.
  4. Cook the asparagus slowly until they are soft on the outside, but still a little crunchy in the centre, about 2 minutes.
  5. Remove the asparagus tips from the pot and repeat the process with the cut pieces, keeping them separate from the tips.
  6. Once all the asparagus is cooked, add another 3 Tbl. Olive oil to the pot, then add the onions and a pinch of salt.
  7. Slowly cook the onions stirring often until they are completely soft.
  8. Add the rice to the pot and stir it well to coat each grain of rice with a little of the oil. If there isn’t enough oil in the pot to coat all the rice, add a little more. There should be a fine coating of oil on the rice, but there should not be a puddle in the bottom of the pot.
  9. Add the wine to the pot and stir into the rice. The wine should boil immediately and be absorbed into the rice very quickly. (I always use a heat proof rubber spatula for cooking risotto, but a wooden spoon works as well.)
  10. As soon as the pot is almost dry, add the stock 250ml ( 8 Oz.) at a time, stirring immediately, insuring that no grains of rice have become stuck to the sides of the pot.
  11. The stock should quickly come to a boil, so you must adjust the temperature so that it is gently simmering.
  12. Repeat the process adding the stock 250 ml at a time once the pot is almost dry.
  13. Once you have added 1 litre of the stock, taste a few grains of rice to see how close they are to being done. We will be cooking them ‘al dente’ which means firm, but not crunchy or chalky.
  14. Once you are getting close to having the rice cooked al dente, add the stock in smaller quantities to ensure that you don’t add too much liquid as this will result in over cooked rice.
  15. At this point we add the cooked asparagus into the rice, saving about 12 of the nicest looking pieces of the asparagus tips to garnish the risotto.
  16. When your rice is cooked al dente stop adding stock and let your rice absorb any liquid in the pot until it is almost completely dry.
  17. Remove the pot from the heat and add 1/3 each of the butter and grated Grana Padano, whipping the rice vigorously with your rubber spatula or wooden spoon. (This step is called ‘Mantecare’. The starch is beaten out of the rice and mixes with the fat from the butter and cheese , this is what gives the risotto its characteristic creamy consistency.)
  18. Add the remaining butter and Grana Padano in two more stages, working the rice the same way.
  19. Once the butter and cheese are all incorporated, check the seasoning and adjust if needed.
  20. Plate the rice into 4 plates, top with the reserved garnish pieces of asparagus, and grate a little bit of the lemon zest onto each plate of risotto.

Did you make this recipe?

Share a photo and tag us — we can’t wait to see what you’ve made!

Buon appetito!


  • No comments yet.
  • Add a comment