As a teenager I spent a few years working in a greengrocers. On the whole, I hated it. There was no heating so I’d spend those dreaded Saturday mornings wrapped in scarves with a hot water bottle stuffed inside my coat. When I wasn’t fending off the advances of the butcher boy opposite, I was hauling sacks of veg into the shop, or advising on varieties of potatoes, but mostly I was just desperately trying to stay warm.
The highlight of the year was always the day we sold our first bunch of asparagus. It meant spring had arrived. There was no greater job than piling the trestle table high with those slender stalks. Soon the local strawberries would arrive too — sweet, plump, joyous — and then the gooseberries, bullet-like next to the soft wisps of elderflower that crowned the table. From there, the fruit and vegetables would come flooding in. Most were brought in by locals. We even had peaches, ripe, blushing and as big as your fist, picked only hours earlier from an Italian lady’s garden.
May in that draughty greengrocers was a fleeting joy, and it all started with asparagus.
This recipe is a hymn to spring – sprightly, zesty and creamy, it’s the perfect thing for a warm evening in June.
Lemon Asparagus Risotto
a bunch of asparagus, woody ends removed
one onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
200g risotto rice
500ml chicken stock
glass of white wine
juice and zest of one lemon
small bowl of frozen petit pois
Cut the asparagus into bite sized chunks and boil with peas for a few minutes, until just tender.
Fry the onion and soft, add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the risotto rice and toast for a minute, add the wine and simmer until absorbed.
Gradually add the hot stock a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly.
Once the risotto is al dente (about 25 minutes) add the asparagus, peas and lemon juice and zest. Take off the heat and vigorously beat in the butter and parmesan. Be really rough with it — the mantecato (the final beating) is the most important part of the whole process.