Continuing our budget dinner series, we move on to yet another risotto - this one more classic than the farro risotto from the other day. In fact, this recipe comes straight from the First Lady of Italian restaurants and cuisine in the United States, Lidia Bastianich.
It's funny, a lot of people tend to blanch at the thought of making risotto - I suppose watching Chef Gordon Ramsay scream at contestants on Hell's Kitchen for their attempts at the rice dish doesn't help. And I believe risotto has been instrumental in sending a few talented Top Chef contestants home as well...But making risotto at home for two, three, four people is a much different animal than attempting to make it in a restaurant environment for a never-ending parade of diners. All it takes is a little attention, some arm strength (you have to be prepared to stir for 20 minutes or more), and some love. The creamy, delicious, filling result is worth it.
- 12 ounces baby spinach leaves
- 6-8 cups vegetable broth
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup white wine
- 6 tbsp butter
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for topping
- Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
First, after rinsing the spinach, Ms. Bastianich recommends slicing the leaves, a handful at a time, into 1/2" wide strips, and I bet that would make things a lot prettier. However, it was about 8 pm at the end of a long work day, and hungry Mark was prowling the kitchen, so I basically just threw them on the cutting board and randomly chopped about until I was satisfied. I also poured the broth into a pot and simmered it on medium low. I heated the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot, then cooked the onions, with the tsp of salt, for about 8-10 minutes, until they were translucent and very soft.
I poured in all the rice, raised the heat slightly, and cooked for another 2-3 minutes, making sure all the grains were evenly toasted. As I've learned well from past experience, you MUST toast the rice. Otherwise, you'll end up with mush. Probably pretty good tasting mush, but mush all the same. Anyway, then I poured in the wine and cooked an additional 2-3 minutes, until all the liquid had evaporated.
I added a couple of ladlefuls of the hot broth into the pot with the rice, and cooked 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Then I added all the spinach and stirred - the leaves immediately started to wilt. I stirred and stirred until the spinach was well incorporated and the rice had absorbed almost all of the liquid. I continued this process - adding a ladleful of broth, then cooking and stirring until the liquid was absorbed - until the rice was creamy and tender, about 25 minutes. I added a dash of salt or two as I was cooking, making sure not to add too much (the cheese added at the end will also add some salt).
I removed the pot from heat, then added the butter (cut into cubes), cheese and pepper, stirring until all the ingredients were well incorporated.
Then I served up the risotto topped with a little extra cheese. This may seem like a lighter meal, but it was surprisingly filling and tasty. And, if you happen to have Arborio rice sitting in your cabinets and some white wine chillin' in your fridge (as we almost always do), really very cheap! I don't know if my risotto would pass muster with any reality tv judges, but it's definitely good enough to make any dinner guests pretty happy.