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All the flavors of spring come together in this risotto. Dried basil, mint, and tarragon rehydrate during the simmer for an intensely herbaceous flavor that highlights the sweetness of peas and the freshness of asparagus.
4 to 6
Lior Lev Sercarz, from "Mastering Spice" by Lior Lev Sercarz
Finely grind together the basil, mint, tarragon, and green peppercorns.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 1⁄2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup cooked and chilled English peas, or thawed frozen peas
1/2 cup thinly sliced raw asparagus
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (4 ounces)
Combine half the spice blend and a generous pinch of salt with 4 1⁄2 cups cold water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer.
Meanwhile, coat a large sauté pan with oil (2 to 3 tablespoons) and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion, a pinch of the spice blend, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until sizzling, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the rice, stir well, and spread it in a thin, even layer. Let sit for a minute, then stir it gently until the grains turn translucent at their ends and smell a little toasty, about 5 minutes. They shouldn’t darken at all in color, and there shouldn’t be any fat left in the pan.
Add the wine and stir well. The liquids should be thick at this point— that’s the starch coming out of the rice. Add the remaining spice blend and stir until there’s just a little wine still coating the pan.
Add 2⁄3 cup of the spice broth, stir well, and spread the rice in an even layer. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer. Let sit for a minute and stir again. Repeat until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add 1⁄3 cup of the broth and repeat the spreading, sitting, and stirring, about 3 minutes. Repeat two more times. At this point, the grains should have doubled in size. Season to taste with salt. You’re at the halfway point, and you can stop cooking now, transfer the risotto to an airtight container, and refrigerate it for up to 3 days before finishing (pick up the recipe at step 6).
If you’re going to continue cooking, keep adding broth 1⁄3 cup at a time, stirring, spreading, sitting, and stirring again, until the rice is almost al dente. You should have about 2⁄3 cup broth left. You know the rice is ready at this point when you pull the spoon from the center to the edge of the pan and the mixture flows back like lava. Add the peas and asparagus now.
Fold in the mascarpone until incorporated and then add another 1⁄3 cup of the broth and stir well. Add the butter and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining broth and then the Parmesan. The rice should be al dente and the whole mixture should be quite loose. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately.