Desperation, with raisins and pine nuts

(In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Ingredients“.)

I first made this risotto because dinner didn’t come. And my in-laws had just arrived from another continent, and needed to be fed. Let me go back and explain – I was then living in England, my mother-in-law and her husband had arrived that morning from Canada, and my husband was supposed to get pork chops at the butcher, but ended up trapped in a meeting.

I had planned to make wilted spinach with the raisins and pine nuts as a side, on the grounds that people rarely dislike things with raisins. (Even spinach.) I had a quick look around the cupboard and found a bag of risotto rice. If you have risotto rice, hot liquid, butter, and a pan, you have dinner. You can add many things to that basic recipe, as I learned when I got an allotment and had a lot of produce to deal with. (An allotment is like a community garden plot.)

I chopped a small onion, and began frying. I had the recipe for the wilted spinach in front of me, and I scanned the recipe as I added the rice and stirred it in the butter. I figured that I’d add the spinach for just long enough to let it collapse, and toast the pine nuts separately in a small frying pan. The recipe also suggested plumping the raisins in boiling water, so I dumped them in a mug and added water.

So I began adding stock to the risotto, and once I had two ladlefuls in there, I started on the pine nuts. If you’ve never toasted pine nuts before, they burn really easily. Luckily, I had only used half the pack, so I did it again, more carefully.

Finally I got to the point where I could add the spinach, which took a lot of stirring. I added what the British call a pillow-pack, meaning a cushion-sized bag of greens, in handfuls, and watched as spinach did its incredible shrinking act. I figured I’d leave the pine nuts to the very end, or else they’d get mooshy on me. Once I got the spinach under control, I added the drained raisins, then a pat of butter and some parmesan.

You know I wouldn’t be telling you about this if it didn’t turn out well. The flavours balanced, and it was a good dinner for people who were really too tired to eat anything elaborate. My husband gallantly fessed up to the missing pork chops, and we all enjoyed ourselves. I probably should add that it also makes a good lunchbox dish, although reheated risotto is never quite the same…

Pine Nuts

Risotto with Spinach, Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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1.25 L stock
1 -2 Tbs butter
200 ml white wine
300 g arborio rice
1 small onion, or half a larger one
500 g baby spinach
50 g golden raisins
50 g pine nuts
capful of white wine vinegar
handful or so grated parmesan
pat of butter

Start by heating stock in a pan with a lid on it. Once you get it up to simmering, turn down low and put the lid on it. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and when it starts to bubble a litte around the edges, put in the onion. Don’t let it colour much, just fry until translucent. Add the rice and stir it around. Do not let it fry. (I have seen recipes advising you to brown the rice. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to accomplish.)

When the rice is all shiny from the butter, pour in the wine and let it bubble until it’s almost a glaze. Start adding the stock. The usual advice is to add it in ladlefuls, and that works for me, but a teacup or anything else of that size will do just as well. I used a steel measuring cup once for lack of anything else. After each ladleful, cupful, whatever, stir with a wooden spoon until the rice is beginning to look dryish. This usually takes me about 20 minutes, until the rice is al dente. (Easy to remember – just like pasta.)

Meanwhile, boil the kettle. Put your raisins in a teacup, and pour in boiling water to plump up the raisins. Now toast your pine nuts on a dry frying pan. Shake or stir them frequently, and don’t turn your back on them like I did. They don’t like that. One they’ve got a nice golden colour, put them aside. If you haven’t done it already, grate your parmesan and get your butter for the finish.

When the risotto is just about ready, get your spinach and start stirring it in. Don’t add it all at once but make sure you mix it in briskly so that it all wilts. Then add the drained raisins, and a pat of butter. When they’re all mixed in, add the vinegar and then the parmesan. Sprinkle over pine nuts, and serve with more parmesan.

This is a good light dinner for any time you want something nice but don’t want a whole lot of food.