Asparagus and pancetta risotto

risotto with saffron, pancetta and green asparagus

Ask 2 Italians what’s the correct way to prepare pasta. You will get the same story from both: al dente, toss with sauce, serve piping hot. Ask two Italians how to make a risotto. You will get 2 stories. Ask 4 of them, you will get 4 stories.  Stir, don’t stir. Use only butter, oil’s forbidden. No! olive oil’s  OK. Condiments at the beginning, no, at the end. Rest, don’t rest. Finish with cream? No cold butter! Vialone? Arborio? Carnaroli?

I am a “non native” risotto eater. They don’t make risotto in Umbria, so I can’t tell you how my grandma made it. Nor my mum who – being Sicilian and adverse to creamy dishes –  did not like it. I  also happen to be fond of dishes full of flavor, light in texture and calories and made with minimal attendance.

So if you like those stodgy concoctions obtained by beating the life out of the poor grains until they disintegrate and then cemented by extravagant amounts of cheese and butter, please read no further.

Here are my own fundamental rules:

1)  Good quality risotto rice. I prefer Carnaroli which has a nutty taste and does not overcook easily. Arborio and Vialone Nano are also good but I have never found a non-Italian rice that will work for a risotto.

2) Good quality stock, bought, canned, homemade, you choose but nothing with that MSG taste will do

3) I use a large heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. The rice has to be in a thin layer all the time so the grains cook slowly at the same temperature. This way I only stir when I add the liquid and then let it sweetly simmer until most of the stock is evaporated. Meanwhile I have a life.

4) I cook condiments – i.e. vegetables, meat or seafood – separately and add them when the rice is almost ready. Then I sprinkle some herbs if the recipe needs it.


  • 30 gr. / 1 ounce pancetta cut into tiny strips
  • 400 gr/ 1 pound green asparagus
  • 1 garlic clove
  • a few strands of saffron
  • 1 lt / 5 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter or EVO oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cups arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pancetta in small nonstick skillet until translucent. Add the saffron strands to 2 tablespoon of  broth and let it soak. Trim asparagus, toss with one tablespoon EVO oil and broil/grill until just tender. Add one garlic clove finely chopped and cover to infuse for at least  5 min. Chop the garlic infused asparagus in 2 cm /1 inch pieces, cover again and reserve.

Risotto will have a completely different taste is made with butter or olive oil. Butter gives a richer and creamier texture. Olive oil is more gentle with delicate condiments like spring vegetables and seafood.

Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add wine and cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth and simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. After this initial stage you can continue to cook , adding more broth by ladlefuls and allowing liquid to be absorbed before adding more, stirring only after you have added the liquid.

When the rice is tender but still has a bite add the golden saffron liquid to the rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  For extra creaminess finish with cold diced butter stirring vigorously. Stir in the asparagus, the pancetta, 2 tablespoons  Parmesan and once last ladleful of broth. Cover and wait 5 min before serving. Serve, passing the remaining Parmesan separately.

12 thoughts on “Asparagus and pancetta risotto

  1. Oh, yes, do not let me started about how unorthodox this recipe is… just cook it for me next time I visit!
    My personal point of view on unorthodox recipes is: if it is good, WHO CARES? And, being lucky enough to have tried your cooking more than once, I’m sure that this is spectacular!


  2. Letizia, I love your line about leaving the risotto to simmer, “Meanwhile, I have a life.”

    I think that might be what scares a lot of people (including me) away from making risotto very often — the idea it must be babysat every single second.

    This looks so good…but I wonder how it would taste with just a little pineapple? 🙂


  3. You have photographed your risotto beautifully (as well as explained beautifully how to prepare it!) My mouth is watering! I think I shall prepare this dish this weekend. (I’ll let you know how it turns out)


  4. Sandra, you better be careful or I will make you cook pineapple ravioli when you come!

    Melissa, yes please, let me know how it works out. Ruurd does the pictures BTW. Lucky me.


  5. Oh, my mouth is watering. I think I can actually smell the aroma. You have a wonderful writing style as well as super recipes…This one I will try/add to my “L” collection. Mahalo! menehune


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