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Asparagus has come a long way since the days of those cans of mushy green stalks. Now, it's easy to find fresh asparagus in markets year-round, particularly in the spring. You can't help but notice the bright green, firm stalks of asparagus springing up in markets everywhere. And there are so many different ways to prepare it.

You can steam it or roast it and serve it with a simple squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or grill it and dip it on some homemade lemon-caper remoulade. You can mix it in salads or toss it in a spring stew, or put it atop a filet and call it Oscar.

Asparagus is such a versatile vegetable, but did you know how good it is for us? One cup of asparagus, whether it be white, green or purple, has just 40 calories, a trace amount of fat and almost 4 grams of fiber. In addition, it's loaded with vitamin K and also has some vitamins C, E and A, along with folate and potassium. So you see, it's one of those really good foods that's good for us, too.

Lately, I've been experimenting with different additions to risotto, my new favorite way to prepare and serve rice. Yes, it takes a long time to prepare and you can't leave it alone, like you do regular rice, but it's worth the time. And asparagus is a delicious pairing to the risotto made rich with butter and wine.

 

Asparagus Risotto

About 4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarian option)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1/2 cup chopped shallots

1 cup arborio rice

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed, tips cut off, tough skins of the spears peeled (if working with thick asparagus spears), and the spears cut into thin disks

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the stock in a saucepan until it comes to a low simmer.

In a separate, 4-quart saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter and cook shallots to soften, then add rice and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring until nicely coated.

Add the white wine, stirring slowly, allowing the rice to absorb the wine. Add the warm stock, 1/2 cup at a time, adding only after the previous addition has been absorbed by the rice. Continue to stir until the liquid is almost completely absorbed, adding more stock in 1/2-cup increments. Stir often to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Continue cooking and stirring rice, adding a little bit of broth at a time, cooking and stirring until it is absorbed, until the rice is tender, but still firm to the bite, 20-25 minutes.

Add the asparagus with the last ladle of stock. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes, until the risotto has absorbed the stock, but is still loose, and the asparagus are just cooked through.

Gently stir in the parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Risotto is best served immediately, but can be rewarmed quickly in the microwave, if necessary.

Note: The stock amount given is approximate. You may need a little more or less. If you end up needing more stock and you find yourself without, just use water.

 

A snack that satisfies

Are you one of those who craves anything salty and crunchy? If someone were to ask me my guilty food pleasure, it would have to be a bag of chips or Cheez-Its. But after consuming the entire bag — yes, I said entire — the guilt consumes me.

Now there's a new way to satisfy that craving for salty/crunchy that is almost guilt-free.

Just the Cheese is just that — 100 percent cheese made with cheese from Wisconsin dairy farms and baked to a crispy finish. The entire package — two wafer-style bars — has just 150 calories and less than 1 carb. After eating both, your need to crunch has been met, and you can feel good about it because they're all-natural.

Just the Cheese comes in several flavors, such as Grilled Cheese and Aged Cheddar. Buy them online at justthecheese.com or amazon.com or at Village Market in Collegedale.

 

Meals on wheels

With grocery stores still running out of many foods, meal delivery kits are a booming business. And even though so many of us are staying home and have a little more time to cook, we need a break from cooking duties every now and then. Veestro, a new meal delivery company, will deliver precooked, vegetarian organic meals to your door. No mixing, dicing or other food prep needed.

It's particularly good for those of us who have been indulging in all that heavy, fat-laden comfort food and need a healthful reset.

Choose from 10 to 30 meals per month. The more you order, the less you'll pay for meals such as golden chickpea stew; Asian noodle salad; Chinese eggplant stir-fry; and mushroom risotto — just a few of dozens of entree options. Choose your own from the a la cart menu or let the chefs pick for you. There are also some delicious weight-loss options.

All meals arrive frozen and ready for the freezer — or oven if you're ready to eat. New subscribers can take advantage of a 15 percent off coupon. Check it out at veestro.com.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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Anne Braly

 

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