serves: 8 servings
This simple soup can be made any time but it is best with locally-grown asparagus (if you can possibly get it) with the sweetness of springtime. It's also important to cook this soup sufficiently to develop the full flavor and silkiness from the base of leek and potatoes.
1½ pounds asparagus
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 cups potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 cups leeks, chopped, in 1/4-inch white and green pieces
5 quarts water
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup arborio rice
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
Rinse the asparagus and snap off the tough bottom stubs. Slice the spears crosswise into 1/3-inch chunks, including tips.
Pour 1/3 cup of olive oil into the pot, drop in the crushed garlic and turn on a medium-high flame. Golden the garlic for a minute or 2, just until fragrant and lightly colored, and stir the potato cubes in the hot oil. Cook, stirring now and then, until the potatoes are crusty and starting to stick to the bottom but not browned-lower the heat if necessary-4 or 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped leeks and cook until softened and sizzling, 3 or 4 minutes more.
Pour the 5 quarts water into the pot, drop in the bay leaves and tablespoon salt, and stir well, scraping up any crusty potatoes on the bottom. Cover and bring to the boil over high heat. Stir in all the cut asparagus, return to the boil and adjust heat to keep the broth bubbling steadily and slowly reducing.
Cook uncovered for about 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the soup volume is reduced by almost 1/3 and the broth is full of flavor-tasting is the way to test for doneness. Stir in the rice, return to the boil and cook for 10 minutes, until the grains are al dente, then turn off the heat.
Season with freshly ground black pepper and more salt to taste. Stir in 2 tablespoons fresh olive oil and 1/2 cup grated cheese. Serve immediately in warm bowls, with more cheese and oil at the table.