Asparagus and Rice Soup with Pancetta

I love the textures in this soup, so take your time and get them all just right. You’ll love the process and you’ll love the results.

Asparagus and Rice Soup with Pancetta 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Source Adapted from the Zuni Cafe CookbookPublished

serves 6


  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, cut into ¼â€ dice
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into ¼â€ dice
  • salt
  • ½ cup carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 4 cup very good chicken stock
  • 12 spears thick asparagus (or 25–30 thin spears)
  • ½ cup pancetta, cut into ¼â€ dice
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • parmesan cheese and very good olive oil for garnish


Heat a 4 to 5 quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add ¼ cup olive oil. Once the oil has warmed add the onions, the celery and a big pinch of salt. Stir to coat. Once they begin to bubble, stir them often until they seat out most of their moisture and become translucent. About 12 minutes. Add the rice to the pan and gently fry it in the oily mixture 4 or 5 minutes. Do not allow the rice to color or get too toasty. Add the chicken stock and allow the pot to come to a simmer.
Put the lid on the pot and lower the heat to low. Allow the rice to cook about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the tips of the asparagus and slice them into quarters lengthwise and crosswise. Slice the rest of the spears on the diagonal trying to keep them, between ¼ and 1/8 inch thick. Variety is good here and will help with the texture. There should be about 3 cups.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet set over medium high heat. When the oil is good and hot add about ¼ of the asparagus slices and the pancetta. Allow them sizzle in the pan. Then stir them to coat them in the oil. Spread them out to as close to a single layer as possible and let them brown undisturbed. Once the edges begin to brown give them a good toss and add another ¼ of the asparagus slices. Repeat the process and remove the skillet from the heat.

Bring the broth and rice to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Add ½ of the remaining asparagus and cook about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the raw asparagus (reserved tips included) to the pot along with the fried asparagus and pancetta. Raise the heat and bring the soup to a boil. Add a good heaping of freshly cracked black pepper and serve the soup immediately while the flavors are still bold and distinct and the texture varied from creamy, through chewy and into crunchy. Garnish with grated Parmesan, more black pepper, and a drizzle of good olive oil.