Lighter Spring Risotto + How to Build a Raised Garden Bed


Lighter Spring Risotto highlights the best spring produce without a ton of butter or cheese!

We’re crossing all kinds of things off the domestic bucket list around here. First, planting a vegetable garden (see below for instructions) and now, making risotto! :)

PS: please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks of cursive “Rirruto” a la Billy Madison when they see the word risotto!? No? Just me? Cough.

Well anyway, even though I love to cook and bake, there are a few dishes and techniques I’ve always been hesitant to tackle in the kitchen.

Making a homemade pie crust has been on the back burner since getting an “Ohhh, ok.” (translation: YIKES) from my high school Home Ec teacher regarding my first attempt at classic pumpkin pie.

Recipes involving yeast may as well have been written in Mandarin for as much sense they seemed to make nearly all my life. (Until I finally gave a few a try last year, and was pretty pleased with the results – well, not early results!)

Deep fat frying? Well, despite Ben’s infatuation with countertop fryers, I think we’ll probably just not go there, what with the whole pesky clogged artery thing, and lingering Long John Silvers scent left behind.

Which brings us to risotto. Ohhh, risotto! Starchy, short-grain Arborio rice is stirred (and stirred!) with savory broth until thick, creamy, and chewy, then finished with hearty amounts of butter and cheese.


Despite adoring the dish, for years I have held off on making it at home. I mean, all that stirring? Who has the time?! Plus all that butter and cheese? Who’s got the disposable income for new jeans every time a craving hits?!

Well, after planting my garden last night, inspiration struck. I’m an immediate gratification kind of person, but I realized the rewards of a garden are anything but. A little patience, persistence, and dedication is necessary to get my happy ending, which is what I’d need to enjoy delicious, Lighter Spring Risotto.

True, Lighter Spring Risotto, highlighting fresh spring peas & asparagus, involves a solid 20 minutes of stirring to achieve that classic, creamy risotto texture, but it doesn’t need extra butter and fat at the end to make it rich and satisfying. I’ll show you!


Start the Lighter Spring Risotto by heating up 4 cups vegetable broth. Since you’ll be ladling the broth into the risotto to cook the rice, you want it nice and hot so it doesn’t slow down the cooking process.

I brought the broth up to a boil, then popped a lid on top and turned the heat down to low.


Next, saute 1 shallot, 1 garlic clove and 1 cup sliced mushrooms in 2 teaspoons each butter and extra virgin olive oil, until the shallots and mushrooms are tender, about 4 minutes.

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Then add in the Arborio Rice.


Arborio rice is a short-grain Italian rice typically used in risottos. It’s very high in starch, which is released when cooked slowly and stirred constantly, making the dish creamy and luscious.

Pour 1 cup arborio rice into the skillet, then let it saute and “toast” for 1 minute.

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Next, add in the juice from 1/2 lemon, and 1/2 cup white wine. I always say if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it!

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Stir the lemon juice and wine in with the rice then, when it’s nearly absorbed, add a ladle full of hot broth to the skillet.

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Stir constantly – not vigorously – just constantly, until the broth is nearly absorbed.


Then, repeat! Keep stirring and adding ladle fulls of broth after the previous ladle full is absorbed, until the rice is tender but al dente. Make sure you don’t step away to fold laundry, stare at your vegetable garden, or look for the remote mmkay, as stirring is what “activates” the starches in the rice.


When there’s 2 ladle fulls of broth left, add in 1 cup chopped asparagus.

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When there’s one lade full left, add in 1/2 cup peas. Taste to make sure the rice is cooked through (add more hot broth if it’s not) then adjust seasonings if necessary.

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Ladle into bowls, top with fresh basil and serve!


Lighter Spring Risotto

Serves 2-3


Lighter Spring Risotto highlights the best spring produce without a ton of butter or cheese!


  • 4 cups vegetable broth (may need a bit more or less)
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
  • 1 cup chopped asparagus
  • 1/2 cup peas (can use frozen-then-thawed)
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped


  1. Heat vegetable broth in a small saucepan until simmering. Place a lid on top, and keep over low heat.
  2. Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot, garlic, and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, then saute until onions are soft and mushrooms are tender, about 4 minutes. Add rice, stir well, then toast the rice for 1 more minute.
  3. Pour in lemon juice and white wine, then stir and cook until wine is nearly absorbed. Add a ladle full of vegetable broth, then stir constantly until broth is nearly absorbed. Repeat the process until rice is creamy and nearly tender, about 20 minutes. You may not need to use all of the vegetable broth.
  4. When there is approximately two ladle fulls of broth left, add in the asparagus to cook. When there is one ladle full left, add in the peas to heat through. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve topped with chopped basil.


Adapted from Love & Lemons

This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats,

Lighter Spring Risotto is a very basic risotto recipe, but boy was it satisfying. I didn’t miss the extra butter or addition of cheese at all. I don’t even know what it would add – besides a lot of extra calories!


The sauce was thick, the rice creamy, and the spring veggies fresh. That hit of basil at the end was totally clutch, too. Although I won’t be making this every week, I can definitely confirm that it is worth the effort.


In other news…

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

As promised, here are the instructions for building your very own raised garden bed! My Mom and I decided to go with a longer, skinnier bed vs a square one because I’m super short and it would have been hard to lean over and reach the middle of the bed. I’m sure there are tons of ways to build one, but here’s how we did it!


Materials Needed:

  • 3, 8′ length x 6″ wide x 1 1/2″ deep cedar boards, with 1 cut in half (they can do that for you at the store)
  • 12, 2in x 8 green exterior screws (the actual color is not green, that’s just what they’re called)
  • 30 feet garden fencing
  • 8, 4′ garden stakes

Tools Needed:

  • Drill with one bit just smaller than the screws, and one bit that matches the head of the screw
  • Shovel
  • Rake (optional)
  • Staple gun (optional)

Step 1

Lay out the boards for the frame of the raised garden bed. These are 3, 8’x6″x1 1/2″ cedar boards, which are great for the outdoors as they don’t warp, and are safe for vegetable gardens (vs green treated boards which can seep into the soil.)

Step 2

Line the boards up so the end of the 8′ board is inside the 4′ board.


You’ll be using 2″ exterior screws vs regular nails to hold the frame together, as regular nails would bust out from the pressure and weight of the soil.


Step 3

You need to pre-drill holes for the screws to go into, so press a screw into the end of the 4′ boards to make 3 indentations. Do this on both ends of both 4′ boards.

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Step 4

Select a drill bit that is just smaller than the screws, and insert it into the drill.


Whee, drilling!


Pre-drill holes in the indentations for 12 holes total (3 on each end of both 4′ boards.)

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Step 5

Find a drill bit that matches the head of the screws, then put that in the drill.


Line the boards back up, then drill the screws into the pre-drilled holes.

(PS do as I say, not as I do, and wear close-toed shoes plus protective eye gear when working with power tools!)


Repeat on all 4 sides of the frame.


To recap:

1. Line boards up and make indentations on each end of the 4′ boards to pre-drill holes

2. Pre-drill holes

3. Drill in screws


Step 6

Place the frame in your desired spot and line the bottom with newspapers, about 3 layers thick. This will help keep weeds from popping up.


Tuck the newspapers under the frame so the weeds can’t work their way up the sides.

Step 7

Fill the frame to the top with good quality soil. The soil will settle as it sits, and will sink a bit.

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Step 8

Rake the soil or spread with your hands to get it evenly spread out.


Step 9

Plan the placement of your fruits/veggies before you dig the holes to plant them, keeping 6″ of space between the plant and the frame.


Step 10



Step 11 (Optional)

Line the raised garden bed with garden fencing, using 4′ garden stakes woven in and out of the fencing, then pushed several inches into the ground below, to anchor it.

Staple the bottom of the fencing to the frame all around the raised bed to prevent rabbits from squeezing their way in.

To recap:

  • Line the raised garden bed with newspaper, tucking it under the sides
  • Fill the bed with dirt
  • Plan out where you want your plants to go, then plant them
  • Line the raised garden bed with garden fencing, anchoring it with garden stakes, then staple the edges to the frame

Water, harvest, repeat!

With that, it’s time to go water. :) Have a great night!


What dishes or techniques are you nervous to tackle in the kitchen?

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  1. Lauren 05.07.2012

    Risotto is one dish I’ve never attempted. I’ve always been intimidated but I keep seeing “easy” recipes that don’t seem to scary. Maybe I will try it soon!

  2. sarah 05.07.2012

    Great post as always, I’m going to try your risotto!

  3. Anna 05.07.2012

    Is that a Hy-Vee $1 mini wine I see?

  4. Amy 05.07.2012

    Your garden looks great! I am on my third year of having a raised bed garden. My first year I used the same fencing that you did and I had rabbits eat holes in it. I then had to switch to metal fencing. Just make sure you check the fencing for holes. Good luck!

    • Rachel 05.08.2012

      We had that happen too, our first year of gardening. We didn’t do a raised bed, but we used some heavy-duty plastic fencing & rabbits chewed through ours. We switched to metal fencing 2 years ago, and *knock wood* that seems to be keeping them out…For now anyway!

  5. C. 05.07.2012

    That risotto looks delicious!!

  6. Jamie 05.08.2012

    “What dishes or techniques you nervous to tackle in the kitchen?” I posted earlier but my comment didn’t show. :P

    • Iowa Girl Eats 05.08.2012

      Oh dang, sorry Jamie! I think comments should be fixed now!

      • Jamie 05.08.2012

        No worries, little lady. I had mentioned that I’ve never tried risotto but it always looks delicious. I’m assuming the asparagus is fresh and not cooked when you add it?

        I cant wait to have my own home to grow vegetables. Right now its just succulents, jasmine, cacti, and basil.

        I also made mention to the question at the very end of this post. It’s a little confusing. ;)

  7. Gina 05.08.2012

    Another trick for weed control is now that you have the plants in, place newspaper on top of the soil between the plants and hold the newspaper down with 3 inches of grass clippings. That should save you 30 minutes to an hour of weeding every week! Not to mention it is great composit for the next year :)

  8. Lori Edgington 05.08.2012

    I just want to thank you for all of your daily posts. I read and save all of them. You are such an inspiration, and I enjoyed seeing how you and your Mom work together. Keep up the good work.

  9. Cook4Fun 05.08.2012

    Nice work Kristin. This lighter recipe looks great and I can’t wait to try it. Teaching risotto technique has always been a favorite of mine and I have experimented with many of the “no stir” recipes and haven’t found anything that comes close to your traditional method.

  10. I love risotto, this is a great way to make it not “so” unhealthy. And your raised bed looks great! I can’t wait to have a yard so I can be all domestic and garden :)

  11. Your garden turned out awesome! Hope the plants do as well :) I think I may be too lazy for risotto hehe.

  12. What a delicious risotto!

  13. YAY for a lighter version of risotto! Thank you!

  14. I’ve never made risotto because it looks too hard. This recipe looks really easy. I need to add it to the list!

  15. Will 05.08.2012

    Great post. I always suggest those who start gardening do it with herbs – they are super easy to grow and you don’t have to deal with going to the store just to pick up a fresh herb for a recipe or throw out herbs that went bad in your fridge. You can start them in pots. The raised bed is the next step and is great for growing those veggies that are expensive, don’t keep, or just can’t be found when you want them.

  16. Tracy 05.08.2012

    Great garden tutorial! Question: When you want to weed or harvest, do you have to pull the fencing back each time? Or are you able to reach in there easily enough? I’m height challenged and feel it would be difficult to reach in there. I’d want to be on my knees working. Does my question make sense?

    • Iowa Girl Eats 05.08.2012

      Haha, definitely! I’m only 5’2 and am able to easily reach the center of the garden, so for me personally it won’t be a problem. I did put in a door, but ended up stapling it into the frame because I was worried about bunnies, but you can definitely leave it open if you don’t think they’ll be an issue!

  17. VeggieGirl 05.08.2012

    I’ve always thought it to be a fancy Gordon Ramsey dish haha, because I swear they make it every show..I never make it because he always yells ‘THIS IS HORRIBLE, MUSHY’ and I think thats how mine would be

  18. Amy 05.08.2012

    How much soil did you need for your garden? You make it look so easy and I’m tempted to put up a garden myself!!

  19. Lisa 05.08.2012

    Kristin I stumbled on your blog a few months ago and as a former Iowa girl with family still there it’s like a little bit of home whenever I read your posts.

    Your veggie garden looks awesome! I always tell people part of the garden planning should be how you’re going to expand it, because once you get into it and especially if you cook, you’ll never have enough space for everything you want to plant.

    One suggestion though – things might get a little crowded. I think your watermelon is in the middle, right? I know there’s some new watermelons that don’t spread as much as some of the older varieties, but they still take up a fair amount of space. You might want to double check the info for how much space it’s going to need.

    Thanks again for the blog. Enjoy the garden.

  20. Susan 05.11.2012

    Your garden looks so cute! I am waiting until we go back to Kentucky to plant my little garden. I have considered trying to have some potted plants indoors but not sure how that will work. Also, your risotto recipe looks yummy!

    Budget Earth – Ultra Yummy Crockpot Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe

  21. Tom H. 05.11.2012

    Great work on the DIY garden bed…but do they recommend using heavy shovels and power tools in flip-flops? ;-)

    Hope to get one of these going for fruits, veggies, and maybe even hops for the home brew, once we get our house in order…which could be a very long time. So…maybe in a summer or two… Regardless, I will be referring back to this post when we do!

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  23. Jennifer 05.13.2012

    Thanks for sharing the risotto recipe! I had never made risotto (from scratch) until tonight, and your recipe was DELICIOUS! My hubby was a huge fan of it too!

  24. YUM – this looked so good and I am so excited that I have fresh from my garden asparagus. This was totally delicious and a great way to end a Monday :-)

  25. Lindsey 05.16.2012

    I’m inspired to build a garden in my backyard now! Can I ask what the total cost was for everything – materials, soil, and plants? And where did you buy the soil from? Thanks!! :)

    • Iowa Girl Eats 05.20.2012

      I believe the boards for around $10 each, and the stakes and fencing were pretty inexpensive (my Mom had a lot of the materials already.) Also, we had the dirt, but if you told the people at Lowes/Home Depot the size of your boards, they would be able to tell you how much dirt you’d need!

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  28. Jessica from Portland, Ore 05.26.2012

    Thanks for the great recipe! It was my first time making risotto EVER and it was during a very rare Oregon thunderstorm this evening. It was such a hit!! Most recipes I try 4-5 times before I can really perfect them but my guinea pig (aka BF) who loves risotto had nothing but RAVES! Thank you!

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  36. Melissa 02.26.2013

    I was just wondering how you made a door for your garden. I read that you ended up stapling it closed but I just wondered how you did it. I have a raised bed and was very frustrated in the fall as my two dogs pretty much destroyed everything I worked so hard to plant and take care of. I need the out of my garden before I plant in the spring.

    • Iowa Girl Eats 02.27.2013

      Ugh, how frustrating! I just left a foot and half gap between the beginning and end of the fence, then cut a length of fence to that width and anchored it on one side by weaving a garden stake in and out of the holes. I secured it by clipping the door to the other side of the fence with clips. I hope that made sense, I don’t think I explained it very well!

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