Something Different
Week of: May 20, 2013
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Quinoa Risotto Primavera Welcomes Spring

By Dana Jacobi
for the American Institute for Cancer Research

Primavera means spring in Italian. In Italy, risotto primavera, creamy rice studded with colorful baby vegetables, includes slender carrots, the season’s first green peas and zucchini the size of your little finger. Served slightly al dente, it is a traditional springtime dish that I prefer to pasta primavera because pairing its vegetables with rice shows off their flavors and colors better.

Making risotto requires constant attention for the better part of an hour to get the rice to the right, creamy texture. But recently, looking through a stack of recipes, I noticed one for a quinoa risotto that cooked in 20 minutes and required minimal stirring. Another recipe in my pile combined finely chopped cauliflower florets with bulgur. “What about mixing finely chopped cauliflower with the risotto-style quinoa,” I thought. Cauliflower could give the quinoa some of the creaminess that makes risotto appealing. So on a day when spring was in the air, I combined elements of these two dishes and Quinoa Primavera blossomed.

Although its name is Italian, pasta primavera is actually an American invention created in the 1970s at Le Cirque, a posh New York City restaurant. I don’t know which came first, the pasta version or the rice dish, but I have enjoyed risotto primavera in May in northern Italy, where the best rice for risotto is grown.

Using chicken broth gives Quinoa Risotto Primavera a rich flavor and a golden color. I wish I could say “or use vegetable broth,” but in most commercially made vegetable broths carrots dominate. The result turns this dish a muddy, unlovely color while its flavor overwhelms the sweetness of the vegetables. Using warm water for the liquid if you are vegetarian and adding extra cheese at the end give a better result.

Quinoa Primavera

Quinoa Risotto Primavera

  • 2½ cups cauliflower florets, cut in 1-inch pieces, stems well-trimmed
  • 1½ Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped shallot
  • 2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 3½ cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced baby carrots
  • 1/2 cup frozen baby green peas
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Place cauliflower in food processor. Pulse until cauliflower resembles crumbled feta, about 15-20 pulses; there should be 2 cups chopped cauliflower to set aside. Use leftover to add to soup or salad.

In heavy, wide, large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add shallots and cook until golden, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add quinoa and cook, stirring constantly, until grain makes constant crackling, popping sound, about 5 minutes. Carefully add 2 cups broth, standing back as it will spatter. Cover, reduce heat and simmer quinoa for 10 minutes.

Add cauliflower, carrots and 1/2 cup hot broth and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add peas and enough broth to keep risotto soupy, about 1/4 cup. Cook 8-10 minutes, or until quinoa is al dente or to your taste and vegetables are tender-crisp, adding broth 1/4 cup at a time, as needed. Risotto is done when liquid is mostly absorbed and mixture is slightly wet, but not soupy. Off heat, stir in cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve. Leftover risotto keeps for 3 days, covered in refrigerator, and can be served at room temperature as a whole-grain salad.

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 120 calories, 4.5 g total fat (1 g saturated fat), 14 g carbohydrate,
5 g protein,  3 g dietary fiber, 280 mg sodium.

Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.

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