I've prepared countless variations of risotto dishes in the past, but risotto is so versatile that there are always new opportunities for creativity. I prepared a creamy spinach version when Sunny's friend Maia stopped by for dinner recently. I hadn't started making dinner yet and immediately gravitated to the creamy rice dish. I combined Vialone Nano rice, Pecorino cheese, fresh spinach leaves, onions, garlic and a touch of heavy cream.
I haven't hit the gym in a month and I won't be able to get back in the groove any time soon as my schedule is booked from morning 'til late at night. So with holiday season right around the corner, I can already venture a guess as to what my New Year’s resolution will be. Although I’m enjoying food to the fullest, I’ve been trying to (at least) maintain portion control.
Servings: 8 servings
12 ounces fresh spinach leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ cup dry white wine
3 cups Vialone Nano rice (see tips)
2 quarts warm chicken stock (or vegetarian broth), as needed
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper, freshly cracked
6 tablespoons Pecorino cheese
, freshly grated
¼ cup heavy cream
Cooking the spinach:
Wash the spinach thoroughly in a large bowl of water in several water baths. Drain, then remove all the excess water using a salad spinner. Roughly chop all the leaves.
In a large deep pan, add 2 tablespoons oil. When it's hot, add the garlic. Cook for about 1 minute. Keep the temperature at a high heat. Add half the amount of spinach to the pan and cook, constantly lifting the spinach leaves using 2 slotted spoons, one each side of the pan. The leaves will start to wilt after 30 seconds or so. Add the rest of the spinach and repeat the same procedure for 30 seconds. Season with a little salt (this will prevent the spinach from changing color). Transfer all the contents of the pan to a large platter. Reserve the excess spinach liquid, if any.
In a deep pan, heat the rest of the oil. Add the onions and cook until fragrant and tender. Add the rice and butter. Make sure that each grain is coated with oil. Stir until light translucent. Add 3 cups of warm chicken broth and the dry white wine. Stir constantly.
After bringing the liquid to a boil, add ¼ cup Pecorino cheese and lower the heat to medium-low; cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Check the liquid and periodically add ½ cup to 1 cup of broth (and water if all the broth is used) when all the previous liquid is absorbed. Let simmer for another 15-20 minutes.
When the rice is almost cooked, add the remaining Pecorino cheese, the reserved spinach and its liquid (if any). Check the seasoning and add salt (if necessary) and pepper. Drizzle with cream. Stir well. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
Cover and let sit until you're ready to serve.
There are many varieties of high-starch rice grains such as Arborio, Baldo or Carnaroli. Vialone Nano rice is one of the finest to make rich, creamy risotto.
It's important to keep adding warm stock as the rice cooks. The key is to add the liquid incrementally and never let the dish dry out, or the rice at the bottom will burn.
For this dish, I used exactly 8¼ cups of liquid. The quantity of liquid may vary depending on the heat of the stove and how long you're cooking the rice. At the end, I let it simmer uncovered, sometimes adding another ¼ cup of cream until I achieve the right consistency and level of doneness. I like the rice al dente, not too mushy.
You can use any other vegetables that are in season, such as asparagus, eggplant, squash or zucchini.