I love pasta in all its forms, but we’ve been thinking lately that we should eat less wheat (except for James’ great homemade whole wheat bread), so when we’re in an Italian mood, we’ll do like the Italians do and switch from pasta to rice...we’ll make Risotto.
Risotto is quick, nutritious and easy to prepare, but you need to use the right ingredients. Most important, of course, is the rice. We use (and sell at Wine & Words...& Gourmet) arborio rice from Italy. It’s a short-grain rice made to absorb a large amount of liquid slowly without turning the dish into porridge.
Next most important is good stock. I make my own chicken stock, because I’ve started using whole “happy” chickens (free-range, organic) in other dishes and it’s dead easy to boil down what’s left with the proper seasoning and make the stock yourself. Or you can use vegetable stock, which is a cinch to make from the excess bounty we have in the summertime. Or there are a number of good stocks on the grocery shelves. Just be careful about the salt content.
The third ingredient is time. There’s no way to rush a good risotto. It takes 18-20 minutes of CONSTANT stirring...no short-cuts! I use the time to reflect on the past day’s events, to take in the delicious aromas...oh, and to have a glass of wine. Cook’s prerogative!
There are all kinds of risottos. You can gather recipes on the internet or from Italian cookbooks. I’ve got a tasty book called “Risotto: 10 simply delicious vegetarian recipes from an Italian kitchen” by Ursula Ferrigno. That’s where I got the idea for the recipe printed below - Risotto alla Genovese.
Of course, I’ve made some of my own changes. After you get the hang of it, you’ll think of risotto as a core dish to which you add whatever you’ve got in the pantry, flavored by your imagination.
Sweet Potato, Basil and Spinach Risotto
4 cups chicken stock
6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil - divided into 4 Tbs and 2 Tbs
½ cup sweet onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ cups risotto rice
1 cup white wine (use the same quality as you are serving with the meal)
1 large sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen spinach (if frozen, squeeze out excess moisture)
1 ½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (no substitutes!)
A large handful of fresh basil
Salt & pepper to taste
Put the stock in a saucepan. Heat until almost boiling, then reduce the heat until barely simmering to keep it hot.
Heat 4 Tbs of oil in a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 1-2 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the garlic. Add 2 more Tablespoons oil, then add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until the grains are well coated and glistening, about 1 minute.
Pour in the wine and stir until it has been completely absorbed.
Add the sweet potatoes and spinach.
Add 1 ladle of hot stock and simmer, stirring until it has been absorbed. Continue to add the stock at intervals and cook as before, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender but still firm (al dente), about 18-20 minutes.
Add the Parmigiano, basil, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Remove from the heat, cover, and let rest for 2 minutes.
Spoon into warm bowls. Serve with a fresh garden salad...and pour the rest of the wine.