Read the directions all the way through so you get a general idea of things here. 🙂
Bring a small pot of water to boil on the stove to blanch asparagus.
Prep the asparagus: Cut the fibrous ends off the asparagus and discard. (You can tell where this is by breaking an end off with your fingers, usually about an inch from bottom- and using this as a guide, cut the rest to match. Toss all the fibrous ends.) Cut the pretty tips off (about 1 1/2 inches) and set them aside. Cut the “middles” into 1-inch pieces. Take 1 1/2 cups of the “middles” and set aside (to blanch and blend into a creamy asparagus sauce) which we will stir into the risotto at the end to give it it’s beautiful vibrant color and creamy texture. Add any remaining “middles” to the tips and keep these set aside. So you’ll have two piles of asparagus, 1 1/2 cups of the “middles” and one with the tips and leftover middles.
BLANCH AND BLEND: In the small pot of boiling water, blanch the 1 1/2 cups of asparagus “middles” (without the tips), until tender and vibrant, about 5 minutes depending on size. Drain, but reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Blend the blanched asparagus with the 1 cup cooking liquid, 2 tablespoons oil and the basil leaves until silky smooth, either in a blender or using an immersion blender. Set this aside to add to the risotto at the end.
Start Risotto: Thinly slice leeks into half-moons, and rinsing away any dirt, strain. (Rinsing will also help soften them.) Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks and saute until softened, 5-6 minutes. Add garlic, cook 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Add arborio rice and stir to coat, one minute. Deglaze with white wine (if using) and cook the wine off. Add 1 cup hot veggie broth, scraping up any browned bits, bring to a gentle simmer, over med-low heat stirring occasionally, letting the rice absorb the all the broth.
Continue adding the hot broth 1 cup at a time, letting the rice absorb it slowly, each time, stirring often. ***At the same time that you add the last cup of broth, add the pile of asparagus with the tips, letting them cook in the risotto 3 minutes or so. At this point, rice should be creamy yet slightly al dente.
Combine: Stir in blended asparagus-basil “sauce”, add the salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and taste. Adjust salt, pepper and lemon to taste. (Pecorino will add more depth and flavor here.) Heat gently over low heat letting it thicken a bit if you like, but taking care not to cook too long here, or you’ll lose the vibrant color.
Divide among bowls, garnish with pecorino cheese, lemon zest and chili flakes or a drizzle of the optional leek oil.
Top with a piece of roasted fish, sauteed shrimp, grilled chicken or sauteed mushrooms if you like.