A couple of professional chef's tricks enriched the veggie broth that brought a cup of arborio rice from raw to rich and creamy with a depth of flavor that belied the simple ingredients and offered the warmth and deep satisfaction a true comfort food provides.
I blanched the stems of the young asparagus spears in 3 cups of water, reserving the leafy tops for the final moments of cooking. Once the stems were crisp tender, I scooped them out of the water, reserving the cooking water to be the base for the broth the rice would cook in. Measure the water and add more as needed to equal 3 cups.
Meanwhile, I soaked two dried shitake mushroom caps in a cup of boiling water. When they had softened, I minced them and added them along with the cup of soaking water to the pot of simmering broth (asparagus cooking water). To enrich the flavor of the quart of simmering water, I added one dissolved veggie broth cube. Keep the broth just below a simmer if proceeding with the dish. Otherwise, cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
I used the standard procedure for cooking risotto, I began with sweating half a minced white onion in 2 teaspoons of olive oil, then added the cup of washed and drained arborio rice, stirring to mix and continuing to cook over medium heat until the rice kernels glistened.
I then added 1/4 cup of white wine, continued to cook, stirring as the wine coated the rice and onions until all the wine had disappeared. At this point it's just a matter of adding simmering broth by the half cup, stirring and letting the rice absorb the broth.
Don't add more broth until the last addition has been absorbed. Keep adding the broth and stirring until the rice is al dente —chewy on the outside, but creamy on the inside, about 30 - 40 minutes cooking time over medium heat.
Before the last two additions of the broth, when the rice is almost cooked, add the blanched asparagus stems and the uncooked tops.
To complete the dish, taste for salt, add if needed.
If you eat cheese, a quarter cup of grated Parmesan is a lovely final addition. If not, it's still a simple, satisfying grain based dish.