- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

If you’re still cooking in drab shades, lighten up. May is a celebration of green.

After a winter of brown food as in potatoes and onions, adding vivid color to your menu will be a welcome change. You have plenty to choose from since produce counters are brimming with seasonal green asparagus, peas, artichokes and lettuces.

Start with salad. You’ll find a greater variety of lettuces and salad greens to choose from this spring. Look for baby arugula, which has the peppery taste of the adult version, but with tender leaves.

Mache, also called field salad or lamb’s lettuce, used to be hard to find. No longer. Many supermarkets carry this delicate nutty-flavored green, washed and packed in bags. Baby romaine lettuce leaves, which are sweeter than the adult version, are a relatively new addition to the produce case.

Once you’ve indulged in spring’s salad greens, add a bright hue to the side dish. Asparagus, sugar snap peas and artichokes are all plentiful now. Steam any of these vegetables, add a little melted butter and lemon juice, and you’re set for a feast.

If you’re a one-dish cook, combine vegetables, starch and protein in a simple skillet dinner. Preparing risotto, the classic Italian rice entree, is a great way to get more greens into your meal since the vegetables cook along with the rice. Finish the dish with a little grated cheese, and you’re done.

The arugula and spinach recipe that follows has the wonderfully spicy and fresh taste of spring greens. The texture and flavor of this dish are best if the risotto is served immediately. This recipe is so rich that the portions are modest. Double the ingredients if you have a large appetite, or serve a large green salad on the side.

Arugula and spinach risotto

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

½ cup arborio rice

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup chopped baby spinach

1 cup chopped baby arugula (see note)

3 cups chicken broth, heated

1/4 teaspoon pepper or to taste

1/4 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup shredded Manchego cheese

Heat oil in large skillet. Add shallot and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add rice and stir. Cook for 30 seconds. Stir in wine. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly for 30 seconds, or until wine evaporates.

Stir in spinach and arugula. Stir in ½ cup broth. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until broth evaporates. Continue to add broth, ½ cup at a time. Stir and simmer until broth evaporates. When 1 cup broth remains, taste rice. It should be tender with a slightly firm core. If necessary continue to add broth. Stir in pepper, whipping cream and cheese. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

Note: You can find a blend of bagged fresh baby spinach and arugula in some supermarkets.

(Bev Bennett is the author of “30 Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons Inc.).

• TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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