This is not risotto.
It tastes a lot like risotto. It uses arborio rice. It has cheese. It is creamy.
But it is not risotto.
In her cookbook, Dorie mentions that her Italian friend warned her never to order risotto in a French restaurant, because the French can’t get it right. After experiencing this first hand, I typically tend to agree. It’s not that the risotto I’ve had in French restaurants is bad, not at all. It’s creamy and quite tasty. But it didn’t seem to have that same texture as Italian risotto – didn’t have that slight bite in the center of each rice kernel, and it wasn’t “loose,” like risotto should be.
(Though, I will say that we did dine at a French restaurant in Seattle once, and though I was hesitant, I did order a risotto that sounded too good to pass up. I have to say, they pretty much nailed it. And how can you not be happy when you can go to the same place for risotto and gougeres?)
This dish, while not risotto, is still creamy, delicious, and comfort food at its finest. And you know what? It’s not that bad for you. It only uses a tablespoon of butter (for quite a large amount), and of course there is the extra benefit of spinach. Zachary enjoyed this, too (even though he thought it tasted better by the fistful, rather than off a spoon or fork). Another benefit to this dish is that, while it has a very similar flavor to risotto, it does not require nearly the same amount of attention. There is no constant stirring, adding liquid, etc. This is much easier and quicker to make.
I modified this recipe a bit. Since my spinach was already washed and dry, I decided to just cook it alongside the onions and garlic (Dorie has you cook it first, then wring it dry and chop). I also doubled the garlic and, since we don’t keep heavy cream around, I substituted whole milk.
We just ate this on the side of a piece of chicken with a quick pan sauce, but the rice would also be great stuffed into peppers or tomatoes. If you have leftovers, you could definitely make some fried risotto patties/balls, which would, of course, be awesome.
Creamy, Cheesy, Garlicky Rice with Spinach
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
3.25 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup arborio rice
1 Tbsp. butter
1 small onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz. spinach, trimmed and chopped*
1/4 lb. gruyere cheese, shredded
1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Stir in the rice and then top with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the broth is almost all absorbed, and the rice is almost cooked. Turn off the heat and allow the rice to finish cooking on its own.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large saute pan or medium pot. Add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes, and then add the the garlic. Continue to cook until the onion is tender, and then stir in the spinach. Cook until the spinach has wilted.
Add the rice to the spinach mixture, along with the cheese and cream/milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir until everything is well combined. If the rice looks too dry, add a splash more cream or broth to the pot. Serve immediately.
*If your spinach is not washed and thoroughly dry before starting, then wash it and shake off the excess water. Drop the spinach into a clean pot (with the bit of water still clinging to it), add a pinch of salt, and cook until wilted down. Then, when it’s cool enough to handle, wring out the excess water and chop the spinach. Wipe the pot out, saute the onions and garlic, and then add the spinach back in when you are mixing everything together.