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Creamed spinach, transformed into a saucy risotto

Creamed spinach, transformed into a saucy risotto
Creamy rice: Tony Jackman’s creamed spinach risotto. June 2024. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

An old-fashioned side dish is turned into a mainstream family meal in this recipe that starts out as creamed spinach and ends up as a creamy spinach risotto.

I love recipes in which one thing can be turned into another. Without even realising it, I see that it’s slowly become one of my trademarks over the five years plus that I’ve been writing daily recipes. 

I hate waste, so I often glare at something left over in the fridge and wonder what to do with it. Recently I spied some leftover risotto in the fridge. We eyeballed each other like cowboys in a street duel. But it knew it was beat when I said: “Aha! You’re risotto!” That duly became this recipe for a frittata made with leftover risotto.

Anyway, these are days of distressed wallets. We all need a reprieve from the insanity of food prices. And I’m on your side in this. So here’s another risotto that, if you have leftovers, you can refrigerate overnight to use for the recipe above.

Creamed spinach is a classic of the old hotel dining room or the kind of restaurant, like the old Hildebrand in Cape Town, where the waiter would serve you creamed spinach and pumpkin from a silver serving tray. A second waiter might follow with another serving tray, this one with roast potatoes, and look at you expectantly while you decide if or what you’d like on your plate.

Risotto was not something that appeared much on the old restaurant or hotel dining room menus in the 60s, 70s or even the 80s, in South Africa at least. They only started to appear in the early 90s, in my memory. I imagine it must have been on the menus of some of the traditional Italian restaurants owned by a family with a glowering matriarch called Francesca whose countenance transformed into a beaming smile, an exuberant maitre d’hotel called Alfonso and three grumpy chefs.

Somewhere in the 90s, I started cooking risotto and it turned into a happy habit.

Here’s the latest.

Tony’s creamed spinach risotto

(Serves 2 with plenty of leftovers, or 4)

Ingredients

For the creamed spinach:

3 Tbsp butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

A bunch of spinach

Nutmeg

Salt and black pepper

200 ml fresh cream

For the risotto:

Olive oil

250g Arborio rice

200 ml Sauvignon blanc or Chenin blanc

1 litre (or more) vegetable stock

Thyme leaves, picked

The creamed spinach

Grated Parmesan

Thyme for garnish

Method

Rinse the spinach leaves in a sink of cold water. Drain the sink and shake off excess water. Leave them stem side up to drain further for a few minutes.

On a work surface, cut the green parts away from the stems and discard the latter. Gather the leaves in a tight ball and chop as finely as you can, being careful to keep your fingertips safely out of the knife’s reach.

Melt butter in a heavy pan and add the chopped onions and garlic. Sauté gently until softened but not browned.

Add the spinach and stir while it wilts and releases its waters. Cook the liquid away.

Add nutmeg, salt and black pepper, stir, then add the cream and stir it through.

Cook on a moderate heat, stirring now and then, while the cream does its work. Don’t cook it away too much; you need a nice creamy result.

Use a nice heavy pan for the risotto. I use one of those broad Le Creuset flying saucers they call a ‘buffet’, with a lid. You don’t need the lid for a risotto. A heavy pot or wide frying pan will do as well.

I cook risotto on the lowest heat. It needs a gentle stir.

Add plenty of olive oil to the pan and add the arborio rice. On a low heat, immediately move the rice around gently, this way and that, using a flat-edged silicone spatula or wooden spoon. This is to ensure that every grain of rice is coated in oil, which is essential for a good risotto. A light, slow hand is required.

Add the wine a little at a time, moving the rice around, adding more only when the previous addition has mostly cooked away. Add the picked thyme. Continue until all the wine has been incorporated.

Now add some of the vegetable stock at a time, in a similar way, but don’t let all of it cook away this time. You need some sauciness to your risotto. Keep adding stock and stirring gently until the rice is al dente. You can use more and a litre of stock if needed.

Reserve two ladles of stock to go in at the end.

Stir in the creamed spinach. Taste and decide whether the seasoning is right. Adjust if necessary.

Have bowls ready and Parmesan ready to grate. 

Add the remaining stock, stir and heat through, and serve immediately, with grated Parmesan and a garnish of thyme sprigs. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido. Order his book, foodSTUFF, here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed in my favourite risotto bowl by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.

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