- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Classic risotto is hardly effortless fare, what with all that stirring over a hot stove. Its appeal is enough for cooks to leap at smart ways to cut short the preparation part and still get the great taste.

Vegetarians especially will appreciate this solution, a risotto using instant brown rice and a creamy Neufchatel cheese. This makes a rich, nutty-tasting stand-in version that may well become a family favorite.

The recipe, from the April-May issue of EatingWell magazine, bursts with a variety of vegetables that offer a colorful foretaste of spring: asparagus, green peas and red bell pepper.

You can substitute any vegetables you wish for the asparagus and bell pepper.

To make it a perfect vegetarian main course, add a salad. You can also serve it as a side dish with grilled chicken or steak.

Mock risotto

From start to finish, this recipe takes 40 minutes.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups instant brown rice

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2½ cups vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 red bell pepper, finely

diced

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)

½ cup grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing, if desired

1/4 cup minced chives or scallion greens

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and salt and cook, stirring often, until soft and just beginning to brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add rice and garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove cover and spread asparagus and bell pepper on top of the simmering rice — do not stir into the rice mixture.

Replace cover and continue simmering, adjusting the heat if necessary, until the liquid is almost absorbed and the asparagus is bright green but still crisp, about 5 minutes.

Add peas and cream cheese; stir until the mixture is creamy and the cheese is incorporated.

Return to a simmer and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated and the asparagus is tender, about 5 minutes more.

Stir in ½ cup Asiago (or Parmesan). Serve topped with chives (or scallions), and additional grated cheese, if desired.

Makes 4 1½-cup servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 368 cal., 14 g total fat (6 g saturated), 29 mg chol., 51 g carbo., 13 g pro., 7 g fiber, 665 mg sodium.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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