This healthy risotto recipe uses wholegrain oat groats instead of rice and is topped with asparagus, broad beans and Parmesan. Poached egg optional, but heartily recommended. A great vegetarian dinner or entree.
Another non-rice risotto for you, as I work my way through the array of new whole grains that I am trying hard to pack into my diet. I find myself looking at the various packages with no real idea what to do, having never eaten any of these ingredients before. Some I attack sooner that others. Oat groats stayed in my cupboard for quite a few weeks after purchase.
No longer. Seeking a recipe for the large quantity of spring asparagus I bought this week (coming soon, a fabulous use for the woody asparagus ends you snap off and end up leaving in the bottom of your fridge until they rot), I was interested to read that asparagus shares flavour compounds with oats (source: Food Pairing). Surely that was a sign. A little further exploration revealed other complementary ingredients: onion, celery, white wine, Parmesan, yoghurt, thyme, mustard seed... This was starting to sound like a healthy - and delicious - risotto.
Adding Greek or Turkish yoghurt to risotto - regular arborio or made with whole grains - is my new favourite thing. I tried it once before (see that recipe here), but this time I added much more and the resulting rich, luscious creaminess - without the high energy requirements that something like butter or cream would bring - was a revelation. The flavour and texture you get from this wonderful, thick-set yoghurt is well worth the frankly marginal fat content, even of the full-fat version. Non-fat yoghurt is neither necessary or desirable in this dish - you will still end up with a light, healthy, fabulously flavourful meal.
Like the barley 'risotto' I made the other day, this is largely a no-stir dish. I did find that for the last five minutes, as it really thickened, it benefited from some vigorous stirring to stop the bottom from catching and to improve the final texture, but this was really minimal in the grand scheme of things.
As with traditional risotto, the 'finishing' ingredients - cheese, yoghurt, herbs, seasoning - are incorporated once it is removed from the heat, then allowed to rest for ten minutes or so. Plenty of time to sear the asparagus and perhaps poach an egg or two with a minimum of fuss.
The nutritional benefits of whole grains are complex and we are still discovering the many benefits of eating foods in their unrefined form. Whole grains contain phenolics - powerful antioxidant phytonutrients that work in multiple ways to prevent disease. Oats, specifically, contain a type of fibre (beta-glucan) and antioxidant compounds (avenanthramides), both of which beneficially affect unhealthy cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Interestingly, consuming vitamin C at the same time increases these positive effects - what better reason to drink a lovely glass of my super nutritious lemon-lime drink with your meal?! The beta-glucan also promotes faster healing by enhancing the immune system's response to bacterial infection, and together with the mineral magnesium, helps prevent and stabilise diabetes, by triggering only a minimal rise in blood sugar (source: World’s Healthiest Foods).
Although not quite gluten-free, oats have been found to be well tolerated by some people with celiac disease - but I'll leave it up to you to decide whether there's a place for them in your diet!
You could add any number of vegetables to this risotto if you fancied - the base is creamy and lightly cheesy, making it an excellent canvas for any number of additions. On this occasion I added broad beans, as what could be more evocative of spring than a combination of these two green vegetables?
This recipe incorporates a way of cooking broad beans I learnt recently while listening to the America's Test Kitchen podcast. I am completely and utterly addicted to this podcast and can't quite believe how long it has taken me to discover it! I have long been a subscriber to their website, which although requiring painful translation of US volume measurements, takes a scientific approach to perfecting recipes that I wholeheartedly admire. The podcast has all this and an extra measure of hilarity. I've never really had north Americans down as a sarcastic bunch (sorry!), but listening to Christopher Kimball and Bridget Lancaster taking the piss out of each other in every episode really brightens up my day. Luckily, there is an enormous back catalogue of podcasts for me to work my way through. Check them out on your favourite podcasting service.
Anyway, back to the broad beans. Instead of boiling them and potentially losing flavour and nutrients, they suggest grilling the whole pods on high until well charred before popping the beans out of their pods - effectively steaming the beans in their own juices. Yum.
This was the first time I tried this method, so I undercooked the beans a teeny tiny little bit. Ignore the pods you see in the picture and blacken the living daylights out of them - the resulting beans will be perfectly tender.
After removing the pods, you also can peel the outer bean skin if you should so desire. I have heard impassioned arguments against doing this, mostly due the the extra time involved, but I personally prefer to do so - for the texture, but even more so for the colour. The vibrant green inside deserves to be seen before disappearing into my belly. But as ever, the choice is yours.
I would recommend cooking the beans beforehand - while the risotto is bubbling away - and adding them to the oats at the very last minute. This way they have time to cool down a little before you start to shuck - highly recommended. Cool your beans, yo!
I reheat this dish the same way as with all my risotto - add a touch of water to a saucepan to stop the thick mixture from sticking, then heat over medium until steaming and hot through, stirring as necessary. This process takes a matter of minutes and results, to my mind, in a texture that is much the same as when made fresh.
Creamy, cheesy, hearty, soothing, satisfying... and healthy!
Healthy risotto with spring vegetables
Char-Grilled Broad Beans
- 1 kg broad beans in their pods
- olive oil
- 1 stick celery
- 1 medium onion
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 200 g oat groats
- 175 g/one medium glass dry drinkable, white wine
- 1 lightly heaped tablespoon vegetable stock paste
- 1 litre water
- 130 g Greek/Turkish yoghurt
- 100 g 'Parmesan' finely grated
- 3 heaped teaspoons Dijon mustard
- big handful fresh thyme or other herbs, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
- sea salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 400 g asparagus
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 fresh lemon
- sea salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
Poached Egg (optional)
- Brush or spray the broad bean pods very lightly with olive oil. Cook under a very hot grill until blackened all over, turning once. Leave to cool before removing the pods and the tough outer bean skin if desired. Set aside.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the onion, celery and olive oil over medium heat until softened, about 10-15 minutes. Add the oat groats, stir to thoroughly coat and toast for about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and allow the oats to absorb the liquid, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
- Add the stock paste and water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Leave the oats to cook and soften completely in the stock. This took me about an hour, but it could take a little longer, depending on your oats. There is no need for much more than the occasional stir during this time, however towards the end of the cooking time, as the risotto thickens, is is best to keep an eye on it and stir it more frequently to avoid the bottom catching and burning. If there is too much liquid, but you feel that the oats are done, remove the lid, increase the heat and boil off the excess. You will probably need to stir frequently during this time to stop it burning. If the mixture is very thick and you don't feel as though the oats are fully softened, add a little more water and continue cooking.
- Turn off the heat and add the broad beans, yoghurt, Parmesan, mustard and thyme. Stir to combine well, cover again and set aside for at least 10 minutes while you prepare the toppings.
Asparagus & Other Toppings
- Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and trim to neaten if necessary. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan (I used a cast iron skillet) until just smoking. Add the asparagus and cover so the vegetables steam in their own juices. After 1-2 minutes, uncover and turn over the spears. Cover again and cook for a further 1-2 minutes until the asparagus is lightly charred on both sides and al dente - actual timings will depend on the thickness of the spears. Season lightly and squeeze over the half lemon. Serve up the risotto and arrange the asparagus artfully on top.
- Crown with a soft-poached egg if desired, or a few more shavings of Parmesan.