This vegan spring recipe for asparagus risotto is made with quick cooking orzo, leeks and mushrooms. Paired with a light and crisp white wine, it’s a deliciously no fuss dinner.
Hello spring! The weather has quickly turned here in Sacramento. The daffodils are trumpeting the arrival of spring. Magnolias are blooming. And asparagus is bursting out of the ground and into my kitchen.
The first of California asparagus popped up at the farmers market a few weeks ago. Our local farms and delta asparagus is just starting to flood the market. This seasonal vegetable is one of my favorites, and I try to eat as much as possible when it’s available.
Lucky for me, it tends to show up around Easter, which means asparagus is always on the menu. This year, I’ve got plans for this asparagus risotto with orzo, leek and mushroom.
Asparagus Risotto with Orzo, Leek and Mushroom
Asparagus has a mild, grassy, sweet flavor that can be easily overshadowed. This vegan spring recipe embraces that mild flavor, pairing asparagus with earthy mushrooms, bright and aromatic leeks and tender cooked orzo.
Because it’s not a traditional risotto, this orzo risotto cooks in less than half the time than other recipes for asparagus risotto! In fact, by cooking the orzo pasta and vegetables simultaneously, we’ve cut the active cooking time to about 30 minutes.
This spring recipe for asparagus risotto uses a classically non-linear cooking method. Three things are cooking at the same time: roasting asparagus, boiling pasta, caramelizing leeks and mushrooms.
I love the way the ingredients come together in this fancy but simple dinner. Green garlic and leek are two other classic spring vegetables that compliment asparagus. The smoked apple sage vegan sausage adds hearty protein with mild flavor. The sweetness of the apple adds brightness to the dish. The orzo risotto is fresh and light, perfectly pairing with spring. And wine!
Pairing Asparagus Risotto with Chenin Blanc + Viognier
Classic risotto often calls for a bit of white wine in the cooking. While this orzo risotto does not include wine as an ingredient, I recommend having a glass while you cook. And to serve with the asparagus risotto.
Asparagus can be a tricky vegetable to pair with wine, but I’m always up for a challenge. It’s best to avoid heavily oaked whites (like much of California Chardonnay) and super tannic wines (like Cabernet Sauvignon). The compounds which give asparagus it’s characteristic flavor tend to interact with many wines, causing both the wine and the dish to taste off.
But I’m always up for a challenge. And I knew I wanted to pair something with this asparagus risotto for my Saturday Night Supper.
Because of the lightness of the dish, I immediately sought a white wine. Something crisp and acidic with a bit of sweetness was my goal. Generally, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre or Riesling are good options.
I’ve found two white wines that I really enjoyed pairing with asparagus. The first is a 2016 Chardonnay from Bailarin Cellars. I’ve paired this wine previously with another vegan risotto (also with apple and sage) and it works well with this dish too. The chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel and oak, with notes of pineapple and macadamia.
The second wine, that I strongly recommend with this asparagus risotto is Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc with Viognier. Actually, it’s the wine we served at our wedding. Widely available, deliciously pleasing, and very affordable. Plus, Chenin Blanc is a grape full of history and in need of preservation.
Preserving the Flavor of Chenin Blanc
Chenin blanc is originally a grape from the Loire Valley of France. It’s a highly acidic grape, which enables many wine making styles to enjoy this grape. Although it’s not one of the top 7 grapes that make up about 93% of the viticultural acreage in California, Chenin Blanc is widely planted in the delta region surrounding Sacramento.
Because of its rarity and versatility, Chenin Blanc recently boarded Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, an initiative to preserve foods that are facing extinction. Both biological diversity and flavor diversity are crucial to understanding our culinary heritage, as well as fueling culinary creativity.
Pine Ridge’s Chenin Blanc + Viognier sources Chenin Blanc grapes from the Clarksburg delta region, creating the backbone structure of this wine. It’s blended with sweeter, more floral Viognier grapes from nearby Lodi for an excellently balanced wine with great drinkability.
The sweetness of Viognier and the crisp acidity of Chenin Blanc complement the flavors of asparagus, leek and apple sausage in this asparagus orzo risotto.
For more on pairing Chenin Blanc with other recipes, check out this guide to grapes. For other asparagus recipes, try this gluten free asparagus tart, these asparagus tacos, or these asparagus spring rolls.
Asparagus Risotto with Orzo, Leek and Mushroom
- 6 cups water or low sodium broth
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch asparagus chopped then roasted (about 1 pound)
- 1 1/2 cups orzo pasta
- 4 ounces mushrooms finely diced
- 1 stalk green garlic minced
- 1 large leek roughly minced (about 10 ounces)
- 3 apple sage sausages diced
Heat oven to 350°F.
In a medium pot, bring water to a roaring boil over high heat. Add salt to taste, and cook orzo pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 2 cups cooking liquid for later.
While pasta is cooking, trim ends of each asparagus stalk. Then cut into 1-inch long pieces. Toss asparagus pieces with 1 tablespoon olive oil and lay flat on a baking sheet. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes until tender but still crisp.
In a large pan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms, garlic, leeks, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir occasionally and let cook 8 to 10 minutes until fragrant.
Add diced sausages to the vegetables and let brown, another 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to low and stir in cooked pasta with 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cooking liquid. When orzo risotto is creamy, stir in roasted asparagus.
Usually orzo cooks in 8 to 11 minutes. I check the pasta for doneness at 7 or 8 minutes and continue cooking accordingly.
Non-vegan eaters can top with shaved parmesan. For extra creaminess, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of heavy cream or creme fraiche in addition to the cooking liquid.
If you’re reheating this vegan spring recipe, add more water or broth to keep it the orzo risotto creamy.
I typically use these smoked apple sage sausages in this asparagus risotto. Top with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast if desired.
DeLallo makes a gluten free orzo pasta or you can make a traditional risotto with arborio rice. Or go lazy woman and use leftover rice. Add hot broth and stir until you get the creaminess you desire.
Swap the smoked apple sage sausages (made with gluten) for one of your choosing.
If you don’t intend to keep this asparagus risotto vegan, I strongly recommend shaving parmesan, pecorino, or grana padano cheese as a finish. This smoked apple sage sausage is a vegan sausage with great flavor so I recommend a similar pork, chicken, or turkey sausage. It has a light sweetness to complement the savory, meaty texture.
Check The Fridge
Can’t find green garlic? Used 2 cloves of garlic instead. It will add a richer flavor, but is equally delicious. Fresh, spring asparagus is the start of this orzo risotto but don’t let that stop you from making a similar dish in other seasons. Tender, roasted carrots or parsnips would be excellent with garlic and mushrooms. Or try it with roasted butternut squash in the fall.