Meat Lite: Bulgur 'Risotto' with Roasted Asparagus Recipe

Meat Lite

Mostly vegetarian dishes with just a touch of meaty accent.

Meat Lite: Bulgur 'Risotto' with Roasted Asparagus Recipe

Note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by their book, Almost Meatless.

Photograph by sassyradish on Flickr

People often ask me how I develop recipes. Most of the time, recipes are born from conversations I have with food people or things I see in restaurants. Or both. Recently I was chatting with my co-author Tara Mataraza Desmond about my new love affair with bulgur for breakfast. She said she also likes the ingredient and recently used it to make a kind of risotto. I filed that away in my brain.

Soon thereafter, I was interviewing chef Jayson Grossberg for my Philadelphia Magazine review about his restaurant, Alphabet Soup, where I had tasted an incomparably creamy risotto. Grossberg explained that he was traveling in Italy when he tasted the creamiest risotto of his life. He tried to ask the waiter how it was made, but the language barrier made it impossible to communicate. Finally the waiter went and fetched the chef, who, as it turns out, was an American. He revealed the secret, in plain English: brie cheese. Eureka!

I knew I would try that technique on my own, and as I was scrolling through my mental idea file I remembered what Tara had said, and this recipe was born. The creaminess of the brie, the nuttiness of the bulgur, and the sweetness of the roasted asparagus is a delicious combo.


  • 4 to 6 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 bunch (16 spears, about 1 pound) asparagus, woody stems removed and reserved
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 ounces of brie, rind removed, cut into small cubes
  • Lemon wedges, for squeezing over finished risotto is desired


  1. 1.

    Preheat the oven to 400°F. Add your woody asparagus stems to the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer while you roast the asparagus. Toss the asparagus with the butter, oil, and salt, and arrange in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, until the spears become tender and have browned. Cut into 2-inch pieces and set aside. Remove the woody asparagus from the simmering stock and discard. Keep it hot.

  2. 2.

    While the asparagus is roasting, fry the pancetta in a large sauté pan over medium heat until the fat has rendered and the cubes are brown and crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the cubes, leaving 2 tablespoons of pork fat in the pan. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the bulgur, and stir to coat the grains in the fat and to toast them slightly, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of stock and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the stock has been absorbed.