Recipe: Healthy Asparagus, Spinach & Mascarpone Risotto

As we spend all our time at home over the next couple of weeks, staying safe from coronavirus, it’s the best opportunity to experiment a little with cooking – like this variation of asparagus and spinach risotto.

I love seeing my friends’ home-cooked meals because they’re so diverse. It’s the best source of inspiration. At the same time, we’re avoiding supermarket trips as much as possible. So whenever our fridge starts to get bare, we get a bit more creative thinking about what we could make with what we have left.

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Spinach risotto

A few days ago, a friend shared a mouthwatering photo of a spinach risotto she made. I had never really heard of this combination before then. But I immediately thought of the huge bag of spinach I had in my fridge, for which I had no cooking plans for yet.

Asparagus, Spinach and Mascarpone Risotto, Smoked Salmon
Asparagus, Spinach and Mascarpone Risotto, Smoked Salmon

After I observed this New York Times recipe for Spinach Risotto with Taleggio, I thought it sounded perfect to put my greens to use. Of course, Taleggio cheese was not something I had hanging out and readily available in the fridge…

Instead, what I did have, and really didn’t have much use for, was half a tub of mascarpone cheese. Over the weekend, I had made a 2/5 portion of my classic tiramisu for the two of us!

Inspiration from spinach and ricotta raviolis

The NYT recipe included a process of mixing spinach with butter in a food processor. This reminded me of making spinach and ricotta filling for raviolis. So I replaced the butter with mascarpone cheese. That gives the mixture a creamy paste-like consistency.

As a result, I was able to reduce the amount of butter from the original recipe. I essentially ended up using 4 tbsp of soft cheese to replace both the 4 tbsp of butter and I-don’t-know-how-much Taleggio cheese. The risotto then becomes a bit lighter and healthier.

Other additions: Asparagus, Smoked Salmon

So I also had half a pack of large thick stemmed asparagus, and was really craving the pack of smoked salmon lying in my fridge.

Thankfully, they worked perfectly well together for this risotto combination. For something still vegetarian but more exciting, you could add some sun dried tomatoes on top before serving.

Other fun recipes

This Spanish Paella-style One Pot Chicken & Shrimp Rice also uses risotto rice, but with very different flavours.

If you are feeling especially experimental, you can even try making your own ricotta cheese. You only need milk, cream and vinegar. Read more about the method here: Make your own ricotta cheese from these 3 ingredients

Recipe: Asparagus, Spinach & Mascarpone Risotto

Spinach and ricotta ravioli was one source of inspiration for this risotto. This recipe incorporates lots of greens and much less butter than traditional risotto recipes, making it healthier. It's a lot less heavy, but the mascarpone cheese helps boost the flavours and creaminess of this dish.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Dinner, Healthy, Pasta, Vegetarian
Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 4 handfuls spinach approx. 150g, roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp mascarpone cheese or ricotta cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • ½ onion finely chopped
  • 200 g risotto rice or arborio rice
  • 100 ml dry white wine chardonnay or sauvignon blanc work well
  • 500 ml vegetable stock
  • 8-10 stalks of large asparagus approx. 200g, roughly chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • smoked salmon or sun dried tomatoes optional

Instructions

Spinach & Mascarpone Mix

  • Chop spinach leaves roughly, and place in a colander. Pour hot boiling water over it, until leaves are wilted.
  • Squeeze out the spinach's liquids - I used a fork and pressed the leaves against the colander.
  • Mix spinach and mascarpone cheese1 in a food processor, until incorporated into paste-like consistency.

Risotto

  • Place butter and chopped onions in a medium pan (non-stick2) over low-to-medium heat. Cook for 5 mins, until the onions are soft.
  • Add risotto rice and toss around for 2-3 mins.
  • Add white wine3, and wait until it bubbles away (1-2 mins).
  • Add in the vegetable stock, a third at a time. Actively mix it until the liquids are mostly absorbed/evaporated each time (takes a couple of mins). After you add the last bit of the stock, toss in the asparagus4 and cover for about 5 minutes.
  • At this point the risotto rice should be super al dente (which I like). But if it's undercooked or too hard (taste it), add more hot water to the pan. You may need to add up to 100-150ml.
  • Once the rice texture is ready, mix in the spinach and cheese mixture, until evenly incorporated.
  • Season with salt and black pepper (taste it!)
  • This veggie risotto is good on its own, but also goes well if topped with smoked salmon or sun dried tomatoes (once plated).

Notes

  1. Cheese: I used mascarpone cheese because I had some leftover after making tiramisu. But you can also use ricotta cheese or even cream cheese.
  2. Non-stick pan: If you're not using a non-stick pan, you may need to use more butter at the start to avoid onions and rice sticking to the pan. 
  3. White wine: Use whatever you have at home. But it's best to use a dry white wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
  4. Asparagus: I used large thick stemmed asparagus, chopped to about 3 cm long. If you're using small asparagus, add this in later in the process (maybe when the rice is cooked).

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