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Mix-and-match meal

Risotto is endlessly accommodating. Though a recipe may specify, say, shrimp and garden pea, the dish would just as soon welcome pulled pork and green onion.

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

February 28, 2010

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Should you find yourself stranded in a cabin, on a mountain, in the snow, with no distraction save one overwrought puzzle, you will be seized by a desire to cook. Knocking around in the kitchen gives you something to do. And, conveniently, something to eat.

You forage through the refrigerator and find a remaindered rotisserie chicken. Also a few spears of asparagus, folded into leftover pose.

You flip through the foreign cupboards and dislodge a collection of boxes: pretzel, Oreo, rice.

Inspiration enough. Consigning pretzel and Oreo to hors d'oeuvre duty, you are struck by the obvious: risotto. It's creamy and comforting, and it offers distraction from the 1,000 burnt-red puzzle pieces awaiting assembly.

Risotto is also accommodating. Though a recipe may specify, say, shrimp and garden pea, the dish would just as soon welcome pulled pork and green onion. Even the risotto bedrock — Italian arborio rice — is negotiable.

You set to work. You shred the chicken and cast the carcass into a pot, along with a packet of snack carrots and a set of celery sticks. The scent of broth warms the kitchen. You slice the asparagus, strip down a lemon and envision all the pieces fitting together.

Your compatriots gather, surprised to find the stash of snacks melded into a meal. You all linger at the table. There's a long night — and 998 puzzle pieces — ahead.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor.

leahreskin@aol.com

Multiple choice risotto

Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 40 minutes Makes: 8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil (or canola or vegetable oil)

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (or white onion, red onion or shallots)

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

6 cups chicken broth (or beef broth, vegetable broth or water)

2 cups arborio rice (or white, brown or other rice)

2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (or poached chicken or pulled pork or leftover pot roast)

1/2 pound steamed asparagus, cut into 1-inch spears (or 1 cup steamed, sliced sugar snap peas, snow peas or defrosted frozen peas)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or parsley or rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence)

1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest (or orange zest)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed (or 1/4 cup whipping cream)

Soften: Heat oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add onion, along with a little salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes.

Simmer: Meanwhile, heat broth to a boil and lower to a simmer. Keep hot.

Toast: Pour rice into skillet and cook, stirring, until glistening and toasted, 3 minutes.

Plump: Add 1 cup of hot stock. Cook, stirring, until liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1 cup at a time, until rice is firm but tender, 25 minutes.

Bolster: Reduce heat to low. Stir in meat, vegetables, herbs and zest. Cook until hot and flavorful, 3 minutes. Stir in cheese and butter (or cream). Taste and add a little salt and pepper, if need be. Enjoy hot.