May 27th, 2009


Wild Asparagus and Opal Basil Risotto with Chilled Green Tomato Jelly

I love the textures and flavours of this dish. The cold fragrant tomato jelly against the warm carnaroli risotto pearls laced with the highly perfumed opal basil. It’s simply a clever and outstanding piece of cooking even if  I have to say so myself. Now that is perhaps slightly big headed but then I’m at least allowed once to admit that something has been done well!

On Friday morning the happy smiley vegetable delivery man turned up with a box of outstanding, fresh and interesting goodies. It was so interesting that I could not contain my excitement.

I had to drive Elly my pet bunny to the vet; all the way I was talking to her telling her about the wonderful vegetables. I’m sure it took her little mind of the visit to the vet as she was nibbling on a branch of the opal basil that I had pushed in her cage as a bribe.

I’m not normally a big fan of risottos however recently I have changed my view  as I was working on a risotto project for about a year for a special customer. The project is now finally launched into retail and I’m pretty pleased with the outcome. It was good for me to be involved as it allowed me to learn and really understand what this simple dish is all about.

I have learned about the different types of risotto rice, that Arborio contains the most starch and is better suited for recipes such as arnacini balls, carnaroli is the posh one and then Vialone Nano is the small one best suited for seafood risottos. If you are intrigued read Giorgio Locatelli’s book ‘Made in Italy’, it’s pretty good stuff as there is about 30 pages dedicated to risotto, respect!

Well I could go on and bore you to death with my sad little world of risotto facts but the bottom line is that I have learned to respect this humble dish and that it’s not only a menu filler for vegetarians.


Green Tomato Jelly

  • green_tomato_jelly300g green tomatoes
  • 1.5g agar agar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 10g pecorino cheese

Blend the green tomatoes with salt and pepper to a smooth puree. I did not pass the puree to get a clear syrup as my intentions for this jelly were to retain the tomato flesh texture. If you wish to make a clear tomato juice, double the amount of tomatoes to get 250g of clear juice. Pass the tomato puree through a muslin cloth let it drain for 12 hours to get a clear juice.

As I wanted to get a textured tomato jelly I used the puree without passing, weigh 250g of the green tomato puree with the agar agar into a small saucepan. Bring the puree to the boil, once boiling remove the puree from the heat and pour straight into a flat tray.

Let the jelly set at room temperature without moving the tray. This takes about 30 minutes. Do to be tempted to move the jelly to the fridge as the slightest disturbance while the jelly is in the liquid from will prevent it from setting.

Once the jelly has solidified cut into 5mm squares and top each square with finely grated pecorino cheese.

Wild Asparagus and Opal Basil Risotto

  • 50g fennel, diced
  • 100g banana shallots, chopped
  • 30g butter
  • 20g olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 200g Carnarloi risotto rice
  • 100g white wine
  • 400g vegetable stock, bring to the boil
  • 50g mascarpone cheese
  • 20g pecorino cheese
  • 4 bulbs of baby fennel
  • 16 spears of wild asparagus (Ornithogalum Pyrenaicum)
  • Opal basil leaves

Wash the fennel, remove the tops and keep the tops to garnish the dish. Finely slice the fennel bulbs.

Wash the wild asparagus, cut the heads into spears and blanch till al-dente in boiling water, refresh. Cut the stalks into fine rounds and mix the asparagus stalks with the fennel, set aside.

Saute the diced fennel, chopped shallots in the butter, seasoning and olive oil until transparent.

Add the carnaroli risotto rice and toast the rice for two minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook until the wine is absorbed.

Add ladles of the boiling hot stock to the risotto, cook until all the stock is incorporated and the rice has a firm but cooked bite.

Fold in the sliced fennel and asparagus stalks.

Stir in the Mascarpone and grated pecorino cheese and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Serve the risotto on a warm plate.

Garnish the risotto with ripped fennel top, blanched wild asparagus spears and picked opal basil leaves, drizzle good extra virgin olive oil. Dot the green tomato jelly over the risotto. The agar agar allows the jelly to withstand heat and does not melt immediate.

Serves 2 main course portions or 4 starter portions

Food Fanatics Tips

Agar agar is available from health food stores or Chinese supermarkets. Look for the powder form of agar agar. It’s a completely natural and vegan ingredient. Agar agar is very sensitive and you must bring the liquid that you wish to set with the agar agar to the boil and pour it into a dish and do not move until the jelly is set completely. If you disturb the jelly before it’s set it will not work! Do not be tempted. You also require very small amounts of agar agar to set liquids so it’s worth to invest in very accurate scales that measure as low as 1 gram.

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One Comment to “Wild Asparagus and Opal Basil Risotto with Chilled Green Tomato Jelly”

  1. Peter Walters says:

    Hi Madalene

    Interested to read about your green tomato jelly. Made a jelly from tomato consomme using gelatine earlier this year also made an asparagus one using agar.
    The tomato stock comes out really clear if you hang the blitzed tomatoes in muslin overnight in a fridge. Next day heat with agar to get a really clear jelly to add a different the dish. Not critcising just offering something new to give it ago. Agar flakes I find easiest to handle. Have even made an apple concentrate jelly to suspend macedoine of veg in to go with pork fillet. It heats up nicely. Taste is amazing provided the stock is made intense.

    Peter thank you for sharing your jelly making experiences with us. I should have gone more in detail about the reasons why I did not pass the tomato puree however here’s my thoughts. I wanted to keep the texture of the tomato flesh but wanted cold jelly like bursts of flavour. If you to pass the tomato pulp for a clear liquid you should double the quantity of tomatoes to get the right amount of clear syrup to set. I have chosen Agar agar instead of gelatine as Agar agar withstand heat and would not melt immediatley as it get in contact with the warm risotto. Gelatine set jellies are perfect for cold dishes. Give the play with textures with in your jellies a go when crating your dishes, it’s fun and interesting. Regards Maddy

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