I know at holidays most people like to stick to tradition and have the same thing every year. I admit that it’s comforting to repeat family recipes that everyone knows and loves. It’s also the safe route.
But I like to try knew things, change things up. At least that’s the lie I tell myself. Because I’m a creature of habit and repeat myself without even realizing it. Take Easter in Bari. We do it every year. And every year I think: I’ll make something completely different. And every year I come back from the market with bags full of asparagus and peas and…there I go again. This and this and this. And sometimes this.
This year I decided not to be so ambitious in the change department. I would repeat a spring risotto full of peas and asparagus, but put a slightly new twist to it via Gabrielle Hamilton by way of Greece. I’d read her lovely written tale of Avgolemono Rice and thought that would be a good starting point for our own main course. I ended up not using lamb stock, which I ‘m sure adds much but, well, who has lamb stock before Easter in Italy? So homemade chicken broth served nicely. And instead of Jasmine rice I decided to use a classic short risotto grain to make it more Italian. And finally I also added asparagus at the end because a) I had bought them already and b) they look awfully festive.
A handful of lemon zest also found it’s way in, as well as a big bunch of sponzale, the extremely pungent local version of scallions.
I made one other big change. While the original recipe called for cooking the rice in water and then draining it, like pasta, I cooked the rice in the broth, which resulted in a richer dish, which is what I was looking for. But it is still a very light dish, and could easily serve as a side dish to something like lamb.
- 1½ cups rice
- 1½ cup fresh peas
- 2 bunches of asparagus
- 6 cups homemade chicken stock.
- 5 large egg yolks
- ⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 scallions (or sponzali if you happen to be in Puglia)
- 3 tablespoons lemon zest
- Pour 4 cups of chicken stock and 2 cups of water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, stir and add rice. Lower heat and cook until the rice is done.
- Drain the rice and lay it on a pan to let it cool. You don’t want it to continue to cook in its own heat.
- Prepare the asparagus: cut off the tips only of the asparagus. Reserve the stalks for another use. Rinse and steam until just done. Quickly rinse under cool water and set aside to dry.
- Clean and slice the scallions on the diagonal, thinly, set aside.
- Peas: Boil in salted water for 3 or 4 minutes till just done. Rinse under cold water and set aside.
- Bring 2 cups of broth to simmer.
- Place the egg yolks and the lemon juice together in a metal bowl. Whisk unitl they are well mixed. Using a ladle slowly drizzle about a cup of the broth into the egg yolk mixture, stirring the entire time. Then add this mixture back to the pot of broth, whisking over low heat until thickened. This should take about 8 minutes or so.
- Add the rice back to the this pan, and stir to coat and heat through. Add the peas, zest and scallions, stirring to mix in.
- Place on a serving dish and scatter the asparagus tips over. Serve.