Risotto primavera is my favorite way to celebrate the arrival of springtime: a riot of crisp seasonal vegetables in a creamy, enveloping risotto embrace. The recipe was born thanks to Giuseppe Cipriani who in 1931 founded the Harry’s Bar restaurant in Venice. Over the years those tables have seated kings, princes, intellectuals and Hollywood celebs the likes of Hemingway and Bogart.
Cipriani, Harry’s Bar and chicken stock
Giuseppe Cipriani was a creative genius. He was a keen entrepreneur, enlightened bartender and innovative restaurateur. We have to thank him for many “inventions”: not only for giving life to the famed Harry’s Bar restaurant, the 5-star resort on the island of Torcello, but also Beef Carpaccio, chicken salad tramezzini (finger sandwiches) and the Bellini Cocktail. And then there is risotto primavera, a culinary ode to spring.
At the origin of risotto primavera is reportedly Cipriani’s way of employing a surplus of chicken stock. If you boil many chickens for salad and sandwich fillings––which were very popular at that time––you have a lot of chicken stock on your hands.
Seasonal ingredients only
Chicken stock aside, the Veneto region is the birthplace of risotto. So whatever the reasoning behind it, the “primavera” component of this recipe has to do with the variety of seasonal vegetables that appear in the primavera, think sweet peas, asparagus, carrots, artichokes, string beans, zucchini… And let’s not forget the aromatics: shallots, basil, parsley stems, mint…
Tomato can be included, but only in small quantities: sun dried strips or flakes, and strictly for garnish, since the base of this risotto must always be creamy white. You can use all the spring vegetables you like as long as they are fresh: Mr Cipriani would turn in his grave if you dared to make his risotto with frozen vegetables.
Ingredients for 4 servings
- ¾ cups (100 g) fresh peas, shelled
- 8 wild asparagus, finely chopped (leave tips whole and discard woody root ends)
- 1 zucchini, finely chopped
- ¾ cups (100 g) fresh string beans, cut in 1 cm sections
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- ¾ cups (100 g) fresh cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
- 1 shallot, minced
- 3 parsley stems
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ cups (280 g) Carnaroli rice
- 4 cups (1 liter) chicken stock
- ½ cup (100 ml) dry white wine
- 1 sprig fresh basil, minced
- 2 fresh mint leaves, minced
- ¾ cups (120 g) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- ½ stick (60 g) butter + more for sautéeing
Sauté each vegetable separately––or at least grouped with similar cooking time––in butter. Vegetables should brown slightly but still be crunchy and brightly colored. Season to taste and keep the cooked vegetables warm, covered with tin foil.
Film the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven with 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and a knob of butter, and sweat the onion with the parsley stems until translucent. Deglaze with white wine until the alcoholic aroma evaporates completely.
Remove the parsley stems and add the rice, toasting it briefly to coat well. Skim any fat off the chicken stock, heat it to a rolling boil and gradually add it by the ladleful to the rice, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Keep adding stock as the rice cooks and absorbs the liquid. You may use part or all of the stock, or you may even need to integrate with additional liquid (hot water works). This variation depends on altitude, ambient humidity, etc.
When the rice is just shy of being al dente, adjust seasoning. Fold in the cooked vegetables, the basil and the mint. Continue to cook adding more broth if necessary, until rice grains no longer have a firm, chalky core. Remove the pot from the stove, drop half a stick butter in the rice and stir vigorously off the heat. Finally add the grated cheese to emulsify and create abundant creaminess.