Lemon, Asparagus & Spinach Risotto (Cheese Free)

Creamy cheese-free risotto!

Creamy cheese-free risotto!

I love risotto. I remember being so intimidated by it when I first learned to cook.  Having to stand in front of a stove stirring constantly for 30 minutes just seemed like too much of an opportunity for my ADD to screw it up but I eventually gave it shot and it really wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be.  The key is maintaining a constant temp (not too high, not too low) and stirring relatively regularly while it absorbs the liquid (but not constantly).  I’ve made a lot of different risottos over the years and most of them were drowning in parmesan reggiano, mascarpone or pecorino in addition to whatever other deliciousness (pancetta! butternut squash! fried sage!) I put in there.  I wanted to make it a little less of an indulgence and more of a regular day meal so I made a few tweaks to the traditional recipes I’ve made.  This one has no cheese, I’ve swapped out some of the arborio rice for brown rice, and I’ve included a couple servings of veggies but make no doubt about it – this is still a delicious and indulgent tasting dish!

Risotto is usually made with a high starch rice like Arborio, because the starch content lends itself to creaminess when cooked slowly with liquid.  But the problem with most rice that is right for risotto is that they are stripped of the whole grain (otherwise making risotto would take hours!) and when you eat them they can spike your blood sugar just like white rice.  No bueno.  To counter that (a little), I decided to use 1/2 arborio and 1/2 brown rice for this batch. It makes a difference!

Note about substitutions: This can easily be made vegan by opting for vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth and using coconut oil or olive oil in place of the butter (though I would opt for extra virgin olive oil for the 2 tbsp of butter stirred in at the end – more flavor!).  This can also easily be alcohol free.  The wine is just for flavor.  You can omit it and add in a little extra lemon juice at the end or a dash of your favorite vinegar to brighten the flavor.

This makes 6 side dish servings or 4 main course servings (though I would add protein to serve this as a main dish).

Lemon zest.

Lemon zest.

Ingredients
3/4 cup arborio rice
3/4 cup brown, wild or japonica rice (any whole grain rice of your choosing!)
5 – 6 cups low sodium organic chicken broth
1 onion, diced
3 tbsp unsalted pasture butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup white wine (I’ve even used vermouth in a pinch)
1 bunch asparagus, ends snapped off, then stalks cut into 1 inch pieces
2 -3 cups baby spinach
1 – 2 organic lemons, zested and juice reserved
dried or fresh parsley – your call as to how much (I love it so I use a lot!).
sea salt & black pepper

Directions
You’ll need 3 sauce pans or dutch ovens for this recipe. I honestly believe (now) that risotto isn’t that complicated but I do recommend reading through the entire recipe before starting so that you have an idea of what is coming next while you are cooking.

Pour the chicken stock into a saucepan and turn heat to medium-low. In another saucepan or dutch oven, begin cooking your brown or wild rice according to the package directions (or if you’re me, just pour a few cups of water in a pan, boil and add rice).  You will only cook the whole grain rice for half it’s normal cooking time (so if it requires 45 minutes to cook, you will cook it for 22-23 minutes.  When you’ve cooked the wild rice for the allotted time, drain if necessary.

In another saucepan, (while the whole grain rice cooks), melt 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until it softens. Add the arborio rice and stir well to coat the rice with the pan liquids. When it’s well coated add the wine to the pan. Stir and let it cook until it’s mostly absorbed. Once the wine is mostly absorbed, add a small ladle of hot stock to the rice and stir. It should be absorbed into the rice in about 2 minutes. Continue adding small ladles full of stock to the rice, one at a time, stirring occasionally and allowing it to completely absorb into the rice before adding another.

Do this until the stock is gone (20 – 25 minutes). Note: You may have to turn your heat up or down a little to make the liquid absorb at the right speed.  Add in the whole grain rice when it’s cooked at it’s halfway mark – usually after the first couple of ladles of stock have been added to the risotto so that the arborio and whole grain rice finish cooking together.

Co

Coating the arborio rice with pan liquids.

When you are on your last ladle or two of chicken stock, add in the asparagus and allow it to “cook” with the rice.  One the liquid is absorbed, turn the heat down, add in your lemon juice, lemon zest, baby spinach, parsley, salt and black pepper.  Stir until the spinach wilts and then stir in the remaining 2 tbsps of butter. Taste to adjust seasoning if needed and serve!

This is a great base for risotto – meaning you can change this really easily by adding herbs, or by swapping out the vegetables for different ones.  You can skip lemon juice & zest and see if you like a less tangy flavor! So many options.  Enjoy!

Wilting the spinach at the end of cooking.

Wilting the spinach at the end of cooking.

I like to add sliced smoked sausage or pan seared wild sea scallops to mine. Yum!

I like to add sliced smoked sausage or pan seared wild sea scallops to mine. Yum!

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4 thoughts on “Lemon, Asparagus & Spinach Risotto (Cheese Free)

  1. Brenda Canas

    Haha I totally get you about the whole ADD thing! I like to call it “ooh-shiny-object syndrome” hahaha! Thanks for giving the side note on making this vegan-friendly! I’ve never had arborio rice, and this looks amazing! I can’t wait to try 🙂

    Reply
    1. Andrea Quigley Maynard Post author

      Glad I’m not alone in my ADD like tendencies Brenda! 🙂 So many interesting things to do and see, all of the time! Always happy to include vegan options when I can. I think it’s really important that we each eat the way that feels best for our bodies. Arborio is delicious and creamy! If you can’t find it or don’t want to use a rice that can cause blood sugar spikes, I’ve also made risotto with steel cut oats or millet before. Same slow cooking method!

      Reply

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