Lemon Asparagus Risotto (Diane Weiss/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Risotto is an Italian short-grain rice dish that is cooked slowly in a flavorful liquid. One tends to think of risotto as more of fall-winter dish. But it’s really a satisfying side dish good anytime of the year. And if you pair it with summer ingredients, it fits right in.

Arborio is the most commonly used rice for risotto; it soaks in the liquid and still holds its shape. When making risotto, what happens is the rice slowly begins to take on a plumpness as you swirl in the heated broth. You can also use farro or barley to make risotto.

Risotto, with all the stirring that’s typically involved, means it’s not something you whip up at a moment’s notice. You can’t dump the ingredients in a pan, set it over the heat and walk away. Risotto takes about 40 minutes.

The end result is rice that is al dente — firm to the bite. If your risotto has not reached this stage, continue adding more broth, a little at a time.

Here are a few tips for perfecting risotto:

Use a wide skillet with deep sides rather than a deep saucepot. It’s easier to stir in the broth so it coats all the rice.

For 6 to 8 side-dish servings, use 2 cups of Arborio, about 4 cups of broth and 1 cup of white wine (or use all broth, if you prefer). As a main dish, this amount will serve 4.

If the recipe calls for sautéing onions and garlic for a few minutes in butter or olive oil before adding the rice, don’t let them brown.

Cook over medium heat. Too low heat, and the risotto will be soggy. If the heat is too high, the liquid evaporates too fast before the rice can absorb enough of it to cook and plump it up.

You can prepare it a few hours in advance if you need to. Several hours before serving, prepare the risotto three-fourths of the way through cooking. When ready to serve, finish cooking until the rice is firm.

Here’s a risotto recipe from our archives. The risotto combines the bright flavor of fresh lemon from juice and zest with steamed asparagus. You can swap out the asparagus with cut green beans or sugar snap peas. This risotto is great for grilled summer fare, like salmon or boneless, skinless chicken breast.

For a seafood risotto, replace the broth with warm seafood broth or clam juice. Stir in cooked chunks of lobster meat near the end or shrimp when the rice is almost tender, along with some fresh basil and the Parmesan or whichever cheese you are using.

Lemon Asparagus Risotto

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

  • 4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 cups asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces and steamed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth over medium-low heat while preparing risotto.

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the shallots, stirring until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and rice and continue to stir and cook until rice is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes.

Add wine to rice mixture, stirring constantly until liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add broth to rice, one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and allowing liquid to absorb completely before adding more broth. This will take about 20 minutes. Add asparagus with the last ladleful of broth.

Once liquid is absorbed, remove saucepan from heat. Add lemon juice and zest to risotto and stir to combine. Add Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and combine. Serve immediately.

Makes: 8 (1/2 cup servings).

Nutrition information per serving: 169 calories (21 percent from fat), 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 26 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 365 mg sodium, 4 mg cholesterol, 71 mg calcium, 1 g fiber. Food exchanges: 1 1/2 starch, 1 vegetable, 1/2 fat.

Recipe adapted from: www.allrecipes.com

Test Kitchen is Tribune News Service column by Susan Selasky, the food writer and Test Kitchen director for the Detroit Free Press, where she develops and tests recipes and answers readers’ questions about all things food. Contact her at sselasky@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanMariecooks

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