Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Recipe Request: Risotto con Spinaci

Friend @donnawares follows my dinnerTonite tweets. Recently, she said she liked the look of my spinach risotto and asked if I could share the recipe, which follows here.

I've been cooking risotto for about 20 years, but it wasn't until six years ago that I really got it right. That's when our Italian friends and guides Patti and Roberto Bechi arranged for chef Laura Capitani to come to our rented apartment in Siena and cook a meal for us. [Left: a picture of Laura working on our lovely meal and below, her creamy Risotto con Gamberoni Argentini e Ceci.]

While Laura cooked us a prawn and chickpea risotto, I learned the essential lesson of the dish: risotto is all about the rice and the happy gift of its innate starchy sauce, what Lydia Bastianich calls "its creamy suspension." These are the stars of the show. The rice should be tender, but never mushy. The sauce should be plentiful and creamy, but never heavy or fatty.

The other ingredients -- spinach or chickpeas or mushrooms or truffles or cheese -- are supporting players and should harmonize with, but never upstage, the rice.

So, the key to risotto is the ability to coax that wonderful sauce from the rice. And the required skill is patience. Patiently coat every grain of rice with oil when you sauté. Patiently and gently simmer the rice as it absorbs stock and exudes deliciousness. Let it take its time. Your reward for about a half hour of patient attention will be a satiny, satisfying, real-deal risotto.

A word about stock: The recipe below calls for our "house stock." Val and I have been making our own rustic house stock every week to ten days for the last few years.

As we cook throughout the week, we save vegetable trimmings (onion ends, parsley stems, etc.) as well as any leftover cooked chicken and the uncooked neck, heart and liver that come with the chicken. Sometimes these are enough to flavor the stock, sometimes I supplement it with new raw skin-on, bone-in chicken.

Everything goes into the big stock pot with a bay leaf, an unpeeled quartered onion, a scrubbed skin-on carrot and a stalk of celery. The pot is filled with water to cover the chicken and vegetables by two inches. Cook at a slow simmer for two to two-and-one-half hours. I cover the pot, but set the lid askew to leave a large opening. Skim the top occasionally, if you like. When finished, strain the liquid through a large sieve.

We keep this ready in jars or pitchers in the fridge, or freeze it in 2-4 cup batches.

Especially good when preparing stock for risotto: toss in the rind of your Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano to infuse your simmering stock with wonderful subtle cheesiness.

But be warned: once you get used to using this stuff in your everyday cooking, you'll never want a canned stock again. You might also get addicted to the money you save and that good feeling you get when you don't waste food.

Risotto con Spinaci
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • A bunch of fresh spinach, stemmed and thoroughly rinsed (mature, not "baby" spinach)
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large toes of garlic minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 - 7 cups house stock*
  • 2 - 3 tbs olive oil for cooking
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1/2 - 2/3 c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese, plus some extra for dressing
  • Your best olive oil for dressing
  • 1 finely sliced young leek - white part only
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Salt
*See "A word about stock" above. Some traditional recipes use water; for vegetarians, you could too. If you opt for a boxed or canned stock, look for an organic one that has no or low salt. Salted stock can become too salty when reduced in risotto.

  • Large heavy sauce pan
  • Large pot for stock
  • Ladle (I use a half-cup size)

Bring stock to a rolling boil in a large pot. Blanch spinach in the stock, cooking just long enough for the leaves to lose their stiffness. Remove spinach to a bowl and set aside. (I use tongs. You can do this in batches to accommodate all your spinach.) When all of the spinach is blanched, turn down the heat on your stock to a low simmer.

On another burner, heat olive oil in a large, heavy sauce pan. Add red onion, season with a pinch of salt, and sauté until onions turn soft and translucent. Add garlic and sauté, stirring constantly for 2 minutes more. Sauté gently, don't brown the onions or garlic.

Add rice. Stir until each grain is coated with oil. Continue to stir and cook the rice until the grains turn an opaque white with a translucent edge. Don't brown the grains.

Set heat to medium-high and add the wine. Cook, stirring constantly, until liquid is almost completely gone. Add a cup of the hot stock (or more, if you need it to cover the rice). Stir liquid into the rice. Adjust heat so the rice mixture is at a low simmer. Continue cooking as liquid is absorbed. When the liquid is almost absorbed, add another cup.

Continue this process -- adding hot stock and stirring occasionally as the previous liquid cooks in -- as the rice cooks and creates its own delicate "sauce."

In the meantime, return to the spinach and use a kitchen shears to snip the blanched leaves into a coarse chop. Set aside.

When the rice has cooked for about 20 minutes -- with the grains cooked to a tender al dente, suspended in the creamy liquid -- you are ready to finish the dish. Stir in the chopped spinach with any liquid from its bowl. Add the butter, stir until completely incorporated. Add the shredded cheese, stir well.

The consistency of your risotto should be a creamy and liquid; if you need to "rehydrate" it after stirring in your finishing ingredients, add a little stock.

Serve in roomy flat bowls topped lightly with cheese and a few thin rings of raw leek. Surround the risotto with the finest olive oil you have.

Serve immediately, while the preparation remains liquid.

Risotto continues to absorb its liquid after cooking and "sets." It is still delicious, but loses its wonderful liquidy texture. Leftovers can be formed into cakes and pan-fried as appetizer or side-dish.

Originally posted by Kate Feb. 21, 2011