A spring vegetarian risotto

It’s been a while since my last post – what can I say?  Life takes over sometimes …

Anyway, my English family is in town to celebrate the conferral of my PhD, and my brother-in-law is vegetarian.  We eat mostly vegetarian these days, but I thought I would invent a new risotto recipe in his honour, so here it is, step-by-step.  It is based on the classic Milanese recipe as espoused by the inimitable Stephanie Alexander, but with enough significant alterations for me to claim originality.  Here’s a step-by-step guide for making it, and indeed, making any risotto.  You can replace the spring vegetables listed with anything else.  Just make sure you use complementary flavours.  A list of suggested variations are at the end of the post.


  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
  • A few strands saffron (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of tarragon, finely chopped
  • 90g best-quality parmesan, grated finely
  • 1.5L good quality vegetable stock (you can make this if you have time)
  • 2 small onions, finely diced
  • 2 x 60g of butter, splash of olive oil
  • 600g carnaroli rice (believe me, buy the carnaroli – it’s so much better than arborio)
  • 1/2 cup vermouth (I use Noilly Prat, but you can use white wine if you wish)
  • 200g shelled peas (frozen are acceptable, fresh are better)
  • 1 packet samphire (sea asparagus), if available
  • 2 bunches asparagus
  • Freshly milled black pepper

First, zest and juice your lemon(s), and then steep the tarragon and/or saffron in the liquid:

Place your stock in a separate pot close to your risotto pot, and heat slowly.  I used a very good quality commercial stock because I ran out of time.  If I was making a classic risotto, I would use home made chicken stock, and in the past I have made my own vegetable stock.  This time it was a bit of a compromise.  Avoid using a tetra-pack stock unless you know it is of exceptional quality.  You get what you pay for.  The stock must be hot, but don’t let it boil.

Then heat the first 60g butter in a pan slowly with a splash of olive oil (the latter will stop the butter going brown too quickly).  Throw the onions in and fry gently – do not let them colour, as this will carry through the entire dish and make it bitter:

After the onions have softened and turned translucent, throw the rice in, turn the mixture to coat all the rice in the buttery-oily goodness, and keep turning until the rice is toasted, or as the Italians say, ‘until it screams’.  You will hear the sizzle and see a slight change in the colour – it’s not dramatic, and for goodness sake do NOT burn it!

Once the rice is at this point, turn up the heat to absolute highest point and add the vermouth.  You will want it to evaporate as quickly as possible, and burn off all alcohol.  Turn the heat down at this stage to the minimum flame.

Okay, now is the boring part – it will take 20 minutes or so, but this is what makes a risotto truly creamy and proper.  Ladle the hot stock into the rice whilst stirring, constantly.  Is your arm tired?  Get your beloved to stir for 5 minutes or so whilst you prepare the vegetables.  In this case, I had a pack of samphire, or sea asparagus, which just needed a wash under cold water.  The land asparagus was snapped off at the ends and then cut into 1.5 inch pieces on the diagonal.  I shelled the peas and added them too.  Here they all are:

Okay, you’ve prepped your vegetables. Meanwhile, your beloved will have incorporated the rest of the stock into the risotto, and it should be looking delicious and creamy now.  If this is the case and the rice is just cooked (a tiny bit of give left in the centre is perfect), then turn the heat off, drop in the butter and parmesan, give a good stir, and let that incorporate into the risotto.  Then add the lemon juice and zest.  Give yourself a good grind of pepper at this stage if you so desire.

The vegetables will need only a modicum of cooking.  Bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil, drop the vegetables in, bring back to the boil, turn to medium and leave for 3 minutes maximum.  Drain.

Drain the vegetables, and add to the risotto.  Enjoy!

Serves at least 6 people.


Alternatives: if you are a vegan, omit the butter and just use olive oil for the frying; and use a vegan cheese instead of Parmesan.  If you are kosher, then you will use kosher Parmesan – this is a milkhig meal, so don’t try and modify it to be pareve – it won’t be as good without the butter.

Other alternative spring vegetables to add could include haricots verts (green beans), mange-touts (sugar-snap peas), and broad beans (I would double peel them).  I will put up other vegetarian risotto recipes in the future.  Enjoy!

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