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Garden Risotto
Rice that's creamy and dreamy. Photo Credit: Renee Comet/USA WEEKEND. Food Styling: Lisa Cherkasky.
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Risotto is so satisfying and impressive looking, people often think it’s difficult to make and decadent to eat. In fact, it’s simple to prepare, and when you make it with seasonal vegetables and just the right amount of cheese, it can be healthy, too.

Risotto gets its creaminess not from cream or butter but from the rice itself, Arborio — an Italian, short-grain variety. Though making it is easy, it does require frequent stirring on the stove, which for me is a form of aromatherapy.

Once you master the rice base, you can vary the add-ins for taste, color and nutrition. Vegetables that cook quickly, such as tender greens and corn, can be added raw and allowed to warm in the rice. Others like carrots and broccoli should be precooked and chopped before being added. And I often stir in a pureed vegetable like peas for an extra boost.

This risotto can be served as a side, along with grilled fish or chicken, where it does double-duty as a starch and vegetable, or enjoyed as a main course with a side salad.

Fresh Garden Risotto

• ½ pound asparagus, woody bottoms removed
• 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
• 2 tsps. olive oil
• 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
• 1½ cups Arborio rice
• ½ cup dry white wine
• ¾ tsp. salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 3 ounces baby spinach leaves(about 3 cups lightly packed)
• 1 cup frozen peas
• ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Microwave the asparagus in a tightly covered bowl with 1 tsp. water for 90 seconds and cut into ¾-inch pieces; set aside.

Bring the broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-low heat and cook the onion, stirring a few times, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed, about 1 minute. Add ¾ cup of the hot broth, the salt and a few grinds of pepper and simmer, stirring constantly, until the broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding hot broth, about ¾ cup at a time, stirring frequently and allowing the broth to be absorbed before adding more until the rice is almost tender and creamy-looking, about 18 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and peas and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the asparagus and cook just until the vegetables are hot. Stir in the Parmesan and a little more broth if the risotto seems too thick. Serve in soup plates.

Yield: 6 servings

Per serving (1 cup): 205 calories, 30g carbohydrates, 10.5g protein, 4g fat (1.5g saturated), 3.5g fiber, 1mg cholesterol, 466mg sodium

Recipe reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Taunton Press Inc., from The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life, by Ellie Krieger. Copyright by Ellie Krieger.

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