This dish and pairing was on one of those evenings when an idea of how to use on-hand ingredients (including a recent splurge on a bottle of saffron threads) turned out even better than imagined. I love it when that happens!
It’s an easy risotto, if you’re up for a bit of pot tending and stirring. The reward is a satisfying one-pot meal with a full range of textures and flavors — creamy rice, just enough baby spinach to qualify as a good greens serving, a brightening note of orange zest that somehow enhances the saffron, toasted pine nuts that add a bit of crunch, and a dusting of grated Parmesan to bring it all together.
Pairing: Tommasi 2011 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Rafaèl
This risotto would have also paired well with an Italian white wine, like a Falanghina, but I was in the mood for a red. The Parmesan obviously helped this work with red, but I think the orange zest did too, for some reason. The low tannins and high acidity of Valpolicella did the trick nicely! (Though I think I would stay away from a Ripasso style Valpolicella with this dish — more tannins, more pruny character, would probably be too heavy here.)
I loved this wine for its juicy cherry character and layers of red raspberry, currant and array of accents — sweet tobacco, anise, crushed herbs — balanced with a touch of bitter almond and bright acidity. A lot going on here for just $18. Find it!
Recipe: Saffron Risotto with Spinach and Orange Zest
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 handfuls baby spinach leaves (about 4 loosely-packed cups)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable stock
1/4 large white onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2-3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Heat the vegetable stock in a small saucepan or measuring cup.In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil and saute the chopped onion on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with oil. Cook, stirring, until grains are just fragrant; do not allow to brown. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add about two ladles of stock to the rice along with the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring regularly. Each time, cook until the mixture absorbs the liquid — using your spoon, you can “draw a line” along the bottom of the pan with no liquid immediately seeping into the line. Then add more stock. When there is only about one ladle-full of stock left, add the orange zest to the stock. Continue until all the stock is used and the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total.
Turn off the heat, and stir in the spinach, one handful at a time until the spinach is wilted. Then stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning — you will need more salt and pepper to season all the spinach!
Tip into serving bowls, top with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts and additional Parmesan, if desired. Serve immediately. Serves 2, generously.