I had no sooner returned to Denmark from Kauai, than had to turn right around, head to the airport and get on a plane to the Netherlands. Last weekend I was teaching my Green Goodness cooking classes in Amsterdam to celebrate spring and all verdant edibles. The icing on the cake was being invited by chef Schilo van Coevorden at the Conservatorium Hotel to collaborate on a tasting menu for his restaurant, Tunes. After working together in his spectacular kitchen, we came up with three dishes that would comprise the backbone for the tasting menu, as well as the meal served at the official launch and press event.
My favorite dish of all was a rice-less risotto. Chef Schilo is very much into taking seasonal vegetables and making “rice” out of them, simply by cutting them into grain-sized pieces. I had done this before at my raw food restaurant, but I had never tried cooking it before. Intrigued, we set out to make rice from white asparagus with a green sauce from blanched green asparagus and nettle. Combined with caramelized shallots, olive oil and some sheep’s milk cheese, it was a creative, light take on one of my favorite comfort foods.
Since I have an undying passion for wild leeks, also known as ramps, I chose to use those instead of the nettles in my version of the sauce. Ramps are popping up all throughout the forest floor here in Denmark, so they are an in-season treat that I love to forage for. Because they are from the leek family, ramps have an unmistakable allium flavour – stronger than cultivated leeks, but milder than garlic. You can use the whole part of the plant, but I like using just the leaves (easier to harvest!) in pesto, chopped up into salads, or folded into eggs. In this recipe, use just the leaves and save the little white bulbs for grilling, or use in place of onions or shallots in cooked dishes.
The Power of Spring Foods
This time of year we are entering new nutrient territory! That means fresh, seasonal foods with a whole host of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that we haven’t been exposed to over the long winter months.
Ramps contain quercetin, a plant pigment (flavanoid) that not-so-coincidentally helps combat seasonal allergies. It also acts as a powerful anti-oxidant, combating damaging free radicals that cause disease. Quercetin is anti-inflammatory, so it particularly helpful for arthritis and asthma sufferers. For anyone wishing to improve heart health and prevent atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, and circulation problems, include quercetin-containing foods in your diet (including onions, cruciferous vegetables, berries, and many nuts and seeds).
Asparagus, both white and green varieties, contain vitamin K. This family of chemically related substances collectively allows your blood to clot normally, protects your bones from fracture and postmenopausal bone loss, helps prevent calcification of the arteries, and provides possible protection against liver and prostate cancer. Research continues to evaluate the possibilities of vitamin K’s role in protecting against oxidative damage, regulating the body’s inflammatory response, and how it supports the brain and nervous system.
Miraculous Rice-less Risotto with Ramps and Asparagus
4-6 large white asparagus spears, approx. 370g
2 shallots, minced
1 Tbsp. ghee or olive oil
a couple pinches salt
For garnish: Pecorino Romano, lemon zest, white pepper, cold-pressed olive oil
1 bunch green asparagus, approx. 300g
1 bunch wild leeks (ramps)
1 ½ Tbsp. cold pressed olive oil
½ Tbsp. lemon juice
1-3 Tbsp. cooking liquid
salt to taste
a small squirt of honey
Pecorino Romano to taste (lots!)
- Begin by preparing the sauce. Snap off and discard the woody ends of the green asparagus, wash them well and chop them into similar size pieces. Rinse the ramps well, removing any soil.
- Bring a pot of water the boil, add the asparagus and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the ramps, submerging them in the water for 1 more minute, just to take the raw edge off. Do not overcook! Immediately drain the asparagus and ramps reserving the cooking liquid in a separate bowl. Rinse the vegetables under very cold water, or submerge them in an ice bath to halt the cooking process. Reserve 2-3 pieces asparagus for garnish.
- Add the cooked asparagus, ramps and remaining sauce ingredients (except for the salt and cheese) to a blender and process on high until smooth. Add cheese and salt, taste for seasoning. If necessary, add more cooking liquid to achieve a thinner sauce.
- Prepare the asparagus “rice”. Peel the white asparagus from the base all the way to the tip. Using a mandoline, a julienne peeler/slicer, or your excellent knife skills, create long, thin vertical strips. Line them up, then cut them across to create very small “grains”, each about the size of a grain of rice. Set aside. Mince shallots.
- In a frying pan heat a little ghee or olive oil (if using olive oil make sure to cook over low heat!), add the shallots and a pinch or two of sea salt. Cook until the shallots have nicely caramelized, about 7-10 minutes. Add the white asparagus rice and stir to combine with the shallots. Cook for 5 minutes until slightly softened. Add the green sauce and fold into the rice, warming it. Continue to add the asparagus/ramps cooking liquid that you reserved, or just water, to thin out the consistency. The texture should be like regular risotto: loose and creamy, not sticky and dry nor too wet and soupy. Make sure it is hot all the way through. Season to taste, add more cheese if desired (sooooo gooooooood).
- Plate the risotto and sprinkle with lemon zest, white pepper, more cheese if desired, and olive oil. Add a couple pieces of asparagus to the top and serve immediately.