This risotto is one classy casserole, and makes for a perfect wintertime dinner. It’s especially perfect for those cold nights when you prefer to enjoy dinner eaten out of a bowl while curled up under a blanket on the couch. What is it about one-pot meals that makes them inherently comforting? (Or am I the only one who feels this way?)
I initially read about this recipe on Smitten Kitchen and knew that I had to try it out. My initial changes were merely swapping the water for chicken stock and adding a dose of garlic and red pepper flakes along with the sausage. I really wanted to make it for my mom, but she cannot eat fennel. This posed a bit of a problem since the spice is ubiquitous in the Italian sausages that are readily available in my area — sadly, I don’t know of any awesome, small grocers with a plethora of sausage options like the D&D Market in Hartford. To skirt the fennel issue, I decided to grind up some chicken thighs myself, then proceeded to jazz ‘em up with some spices (basil, oregano, parsley and anise seed [the latter instead of fennel]), plus additional garlic and onions.
Other times, I’ve used red wine instead of vermouth, added the contents of a leftover half can of tomato paste and, when my garden was at its peak, tossed in a couple handfuls of chopped, fresh basil at the end along with the spinach.
Most recently, in somewhat of a petulant meets lightbulb-going-off-in-my-head moment, I found a use for the half carton of creamy tomato soup that I was bored with eating for lunch (I was on my second or third quart of the week). My previous versions paled in comparison — they never were quite as creamy as the basic risotto I knew and loved — but this small substitution was just what the recipe needed to pump up both the tomato flavor and overall lusciousness. Basically, just have fun with it and enjoy!
Tomato, Spinach and Chicken Risotto
Everyday Food, November 2006)
Preparation and Cooking Time: 30-45 minutes
Serves: 4 – 6
- 2 cups (454 grams) creamy tomato soup¹
- 1 cup (227 grams) water
- 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, do not strain
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) olive oil
- 2 cups (227 grams, from about 1 large) finely chopped yellow onion
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons dried basil, divided
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1⁄4 teaspoon whole fennel or anise seed, crush with mortar and pestle or chop
- 1⁄4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1⁄4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
- 1 pound ground chicken thighs²
- 1⁄2 cup (113 grams) dry vermouth or dry white wine
- 1 1⁄4 cups (225 grams) Arborio rice
- 12 ounces baby spinach, wash and dry well
- 1⁄2 cup (57 grams) finely grated Parmesan cheese, lightly packed
- Parmesan cheese
- Maldon sea salt or Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- Red pepper flakes
- Fresh basil, chiffonade
In a medium saucepan, combine tomato soup, water and diced tomatoes. Warm over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer, stir occasionally (do not lower heat, you want it to reduce down a bit).
In a large pot (6 – 8 quart) over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook onions until translucent and slightly softened (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the basil, plus the parsley through black pepper; cook for 15 – 30 seconds. Add ground chicken, spread out into a single layer, covering the entire bottom of the pot, cook for 1 minute. Stir, breaking chicken into smaller pieces and cook, stirring occasionally for another 4-5 minutes, or until no longer pink.
Deglaze pan with vermouth, scraping up any brown bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan. Add rice, stirring constantly until liquid is just about absorbed.
Mix in two cups of the tomato mixture to start, simmering and stirring until the liquid is nearly all absorbed. Continue adding tomato mixture, about 3/4 cup at a time. Let each addition absorb into the rice before adding the next, stir constantly. Add just enough liquid until rice is tender and grains are still separate — you don’t want one gooey, sticky mass of risotto, but instead for the mixture to still have bit of flow and movement to it, especially since as it cools it will thicken further. It is possible that the rice will be tender before all of the liquid is used up, if this happens, strain out any remaining diced tomatoes and add them to the risotto pot.
Turn off the heat, stir in the remaining tablespoon of basil, and add as much spinach to the pot as possible. Fold spinach in, add the remainder once the first bit wilts down. Once all of the spinach is incorporated, stir in the Parmesan. Serve immediately with additional Parmesan, a sprinkle of flakey sea salt, additional crushed red pepper and/or a chiffonade of fresh basil.
² To grind the chicken thighs, I used the KitchenAid Food Grinder Attachment — it’s so much easier on your shoulder than the old, hand crank models that you bolt down (not literally, but practically) to your countertop. I cut the thighs into about 1″ pieces and ran them through the machine twice using the fine grinding plate. It’s perfectly ok to use pre-ground turkey or chicken from the grocery store, just make sure that the “natural flavorings” and other additives typically used are gluten-free.