I'm always searching for ways to make a healthier version of risotto, one of my favorite winter Italian dishes.
Risotto traditionally is made with starchy white rice. That starch is essential to producing a creamy, thick risotto. But I wanted a whole-grain version. Trouble is, brown rice doesn't release nearly as much starch during cooking, so substituting it often produces risotto that is thin and uninspiring.
It took me a few attempts, but I eventually figured out how to have my whole grains and my thick and creamy risotto. And it was simple. I just needed to add starch.
Once I had that down, then I needed to add flavor. For this recipe, I came up with two variations, one with Brussels sprouts and apple, another with asparagus and tomatoes. Both are incredibly delicious.
CREAMY BROWN RICE RISOTTO TWO WAYS — WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND APPLE OR ASPARAGUS AND TOMATOES
Start to finish: 40 minutes (20 minutes active)
1 cup short grain brown rice (or brown sushi rice)
2 cups water
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces prosciutto, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 pound Brussels sprouts, quartered AND 1 firm tart apple, peeled and diced
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces AND 1/2 cup oil-packed sliced sun-dried tomatoes (drained)
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, room temperature
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Purchased balsamic glaze, to serve
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the rice and water. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, leaving it covered. The rice will not be completely cooked and there will be some water in the pan. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the prosciutto and cook until crisp. Use a spoon to transfer the prosciutto to a plate and set aside. Do not wipe out the skillet. Return the pan to the stovetop over medium-high heat and add the rosemary and onion. Saute until starting to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Add the Brussels sprouts and apple OR the asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the wine and stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to deglaze the pan. Add the rice and any liquid in the pan. Add the chicken broth and stir well. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the liquid has thickened and reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture, then cook for another minute.
Stir in the cheese until melted. Season with salt and pepper. Top with crisped prosciutto, then drizzle with balsamic glaze just before serving.
Nutrition information per serving for the Brussels sprouts and apple variation: 420 calories; 90 calories from fat (21 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (3.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 62 g carbohydrate; 8 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 21 g protein; 880 mg sodium.
Nutrition information per serving of the asparagus and tomato variation: 400 calories; 100 calories from fat (25 percent of total calories); 11 g fat (3.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 52 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 20 g protein; 890 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Follow him to great eats on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch or email him at jhirsch(at)ap.org.