Spinach Risotto Healthy Recipe

Spinach Risotto Recipe

I had a bad day recently and what I really wanted to do was inhale a pan of brownies, but I had just published a post about how I beat a sugar addiction and I didn’t want to be a healthy hypocrite.  Instead I set out to make a pot of spinach risotto, my culinary equivalent to a big hug.   If you’re not a spinach fan, I’m not going to be much fun for you this week and next.  We are on the verge of spring, Nature’s new year.  I really feel the resurgence of energy and life that comes back in spring and I get so motivated to start fresh, clean a closet, reorganize a drawer, set some healthful resolutions.  Nutritionally speaking, Nature wants us to start fresh, too, so she gives us lots of dark leafy greens like spinach.  If winter added a few pounds or you have a build-up of mucus or stagnant energy, leafy greens can help.  You already know that greens are super nutrient-dense, but it’s all that chlorophyll that helps the liver to detoxify.  Now if you’re in a habit of eating seasonally, you don’t even need to know this since you would make it happen naturally.


As I mentioned in my Spinach and Avocado Smoothie recipe, you have a fantastic window of opportunity with St. Patrick’s Day coming up to make green food.  So I thought today would be a great time to post this spinach risotto recipe.  Please don’t get put off by the word “risotto.”  It doesn’t imply something hard to make, easy to screw up or super labor intensive.  In fact, risotto is something I make when I don’t have a lot of time or I need to make do with bits of this or that in the fridge.  This time around I was overzealous  with my purchase of spinach and wanted to find a good place for it.

Most people think making risotto requires a permanent spot in front of the stove and non-stop stirring.  Not so.  You do have to add a bit of broth to the pot every five minutes and give a quick stir, but you can be accomplishing other things at the same time, such as testing someone on his spelling words, prepping some vegetables, or breaking up an argument between two teenage girls over borrowing clothes.  If you don’t have the patience to be in the presence of teenage girls in the kitchen for too long to stir traditional risotto every five minutes, check out my very easy Artichoke and Spinach Barley Risotto — saute, dump and bake.  Otherwise, timing is the only tricky part since you want to serve risotto as soon as it’s done.  My first round of photos didn’t turn out all that great, so I reshot the plate about 15 minutes later and the risotto had already lost its lovely soupiness and thickened up.  Not the end of the world, of course, but I prefer risotto a little more “pourable.”

Risotto is often served as a first course for dinner, but we’re not in a habit of eating dinner in courses at our house, are you?  So I serve it as a side with other dishes that are a little lighter.  The night I photographed this, I served it with roasted shrimp and a green salad.  I very often serve fish with risotto, such as spice-rubbed or poached salmon with a fresh tomato salsa.  Steamed asparagus, roasted carrots or a grated carrot salad would also complement nicely.  If you do think you will serve this as part of a St. Patrick’s Day dinner, why not give everybody a jump start on spring cleaning and serve everything green?  Enjoy!

Spinach Risotto Recipe

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Spinach Risotto
Serves: 6 as a side dish
  • 12 ounces spinach leaves, washed
  • 3 ½ - 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice, do NOT rinse
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese
  1. In a wide saucepan you will use for the risotto, bring ½ an inch of water to a boil. Add the spinach leaves and cover. Steam for one minute. Stir the spinach and continue to steam until just wilted.
  2. Transfer the spinach to a blender (I pull the spinach out with tongs) and discard the cooking liquid. Puree the spinach and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, bring all the stock to a boil and turn off the heat. In the same saucepan that the spinach was cooked in, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté gently until tender and translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two.
  4. Add the rice to the onions and stir to coat with the oil. Set your timer for 20 minutes. Sauté rice for 2 minutes. Pour the wine into the saucepan and stir occasionally until it has been absorbed.
  5. Add the salt, zest, and 1 cup of the warmed stock and bring to a lively simmer. The pot should be simmering with active, not furious bubbles. Once the stock has almost been fully absorbed, add another ladleful or about ½ cup and stir occasionally.
  6. After 20 minutes, taste the rice for doneness. Ideally, it is still al dente.
  7. Stir in the cheese and spinach puree. Give the risotto a nice, brisk stir. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes. It should be loose and almost soupy. Serve immediately.

Mini-empanadas with mixed greens

Well, like it or not, it’s officially holiday season!  Even though there’s so much to love about the holidays, I just wish it didn’t all happen at once.  Do you ever have that feeling?  But one thing I truly look forward to is getting together with friends for a good, old-fashioned cocktail party, provided I get invited to one.  I love mingling and chatting with lots of different people and eating fun little noshes at my leisure.  However, if you ask me, I do think there’s a little room for improvement in the hors d’oeuvres arena.  (Maybe that’s why I don’t get invited to too many parties.)  You know what I mean, right?   Lots of baked brie with chutney, sad-looking crudite with not-homemade hummus, or tomato-basil bruschetta…in the winter!  We’re going to step it up a notch today, folks.  You need to bring an hors d’oeuvre to a party either this weekend or next, correct?  Although I have several fab party recipes on the site already, these empanadas are tied for my favorite with the Zucchini-Gruyere Tart, which is a winner every time.

Empanadas are these delicious little savory hand pies.    It’s almost like a small tart that has been folded over.  Whereas there are infinite fillings you can use, empanada pastry dough is usually stuffed with seasoned ground beef and fried.  We’re not doing any of that.  When I noticed a recipe for empanadas in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone using leafy greens and olives, I knew I had to try them.  I have tweaked the recipe over the years to make it simpler and sometimes I add finely diced precooked turkey sausage to the greens — delicious, I tell you.  My kids are crazy for them and I really don’t think they even know what they’re eating.

After my last class the Friday before Thanksgiving when I thought I might collapse, I realized that two months ago I had volunteered my house for a pot luck dinner the NEXT night because, you know, it seemed like a bonehead  good idea at the time.  Well, what was a good idea was that I offered to do a turkey since I would have a leftover demo bird from Friday’s class as well as an hors d’oeuvre, knowing full well that I could make these scrumptious little empanaditas in October and freeze them.

Daughter #1 and I had fun making them one afternoon when she had a day off from school.  You don’t have to make the pastry from scratch like I did.  I have seen prepared empanada pastry rounds in specialty markets, or you can cut out rounds from pie crusts.  But if you have ever made cut-out cookies, you can do this.  I normally just roll out the little rounds and leave them with imperfect edges, but I was surprised that my daughter wanted to take the time to use round cookie cutters to make them “prettier.”  If you don’t want or need to freeze the empanadas, you can roll out the rounds the day before and keep them well-covered.  You can also make your filling in advance and then assemble the empanadas before you bake them.  Let me just tell you right now, you should make these whether you’re party-bound or not and freeze them for a rainy day.  My kids will pull them out of the freezer and pop them into the toaster oven for an after school snack or to eat with a bowl of soup on the weekend.  You can even stick them in a lunchbox!  Do my good ideas ever end?  Can you tell I’ve had too much green tea today?!


Mini-Empanadas with Mixed Greens
Serves: makes 24 mini-empanadas
  • Empanada Dough:
  • 3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (you can sub out ½ cup with whole wheat pastry)
  • ¾ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks + 2 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons ice water
  • Filling:
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil or ghee
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 12 cups mixed chopped greens such as Swiss chard, beet greens, kale, spinach, and/or escarole
  • ⅔ cup shredded fontina cheese (optional)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 beaten egg + 1 Tablespoon milk
  1. Make the dough: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. With the machine running, slowly add the water through the feed tube and pulse until a ball of dough comes together.
  2. Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Use your hands to pat the dough into a disk. Wrap the dough with the parchment (or plastic wrap) and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Divide the dough into 24 pieces: first cut 8 equal wedges, like a pizza. Then cut each wedge into three pieces. Roll each piece into a 4-inch circle. Transfer to a sheet pan and refrigerate.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make the filling: Heat oil or ghee in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion, garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes. Saute until the onion is tender, about 4 minutes. Add the greens and sea salt and pepper to taste and cook until softened, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. If there’s a lot of moisture, drain some of the liquid.
  5. Add the cheese to the greens and taste for seasoning. Allow to cool slightly before filling the pastry.
  6. Place a spoonful of filling on the lower half of each dough circle, then fold the pastry over and seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned. (If you are baking these directly from the freezer, bake an additional 10-15 minutes.) Serve warm or at room temperature.
If you would like to add some precooked turkey sausage to the filling, take 4 (about 12 ounces) and diced them up. Add them to the pan with the onion, etc. Reduce the greens to 10 cups.

If you have a few tablespoons of leftover filling, save it the next day for an omelet. Yum!


Mixed Greens with Grapes, Gorgonzola (or Roquefort) and Almonds

Did you know that grapes have a season just like every other fruit?  Right now is peak grape season in California and they’re scrumptious.  In a few months, the season is over and the grapes in the supermarkets will have been flown in from all sorts of exotic locales that I would love to visit one day.  But for now, we are enjoying organic, locally-grown grapes while they last.  When the season’s over in a month or two, we’re moving on to pears and persimmons.  I always buy organic since grapes are one of the foods on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list, which means they’re pretty heavily contaminated when grown conventionally.

My mother-in-law has a favorite salad that she eats regularly at a restaurant in Park City, Utah and she asked me to copy it at home.  The Grape and Gorgonzola Salad she likes is presented kind of fancy, like a tower with the mixed greens on top, definitely not how I arrange salads at home.  Salads are a dish that are usually the easiest to replicate because you know exactly what’s in there and dressings are generally a ratio of 1 part acid to 3-4 parts oil, plus salt and pepper.  Last year I served this for Rosh Hashana lunch instead of the salad with sauteed apples that I always do,  and we loved it so much it was a repeat this year.

I’m not normally a big cheese eater, but this salad is an example of how I do like to eat cheese.  I usually stick to goat or sheep dairy, which is way more digestible than pasteurized cow dairy for most people.  I will take raw cow dairy over pasteurized for the same reason.  And I like to use a cheese with a bold flavor so that you don’t need very much at all to make a statement.  A little goes a long way.  Gorgonzola is a type of blue cheese, more mild than most blues.  The only Gorgonzola I could find at Whole Foods was pasteurized cow, so I selected a piece of genuine Roquefort, a similar blue cheese made from sheep’s milk, which is also rich in lauric acid, a powerful immune boosting fatty acid.  It was a good thing I was in the kitchen this morning when my husband almost threw out the brand new wedge of Roquefort, thinking it was a science experiment gone bad.  All those blue veins kind of threw him off a bit.  He looked at me in disbelief when I told him the mold in the cheese was put there on purpose and it’s actually good for you.  The blue or blue-green mold running through it is called Penicillium roqueforti which is related to the antibiotic Penicillin and helps fight harmful bacteria in the body.  Not something I would recommend to someone who is allergic to mold or is pregnant however, but since I am neither (hooray!), the Roquefort stays.

You may look at this salad and think it seems so simple and boring, but I wouldn’t post it if it were.  You know what it tastes like?  Like all the flavors on a good cheese plate in a salad, which makes me think that you can substitute figs for the grapes and that would be very delicious.  Figs are in season right now, too, I might add.  The grapes are juicy and sweet and pair perfectly with the salty, strong Roquefort and you know how I feel about a little crunch in my salad — thank you, almonds!  But you know where I’m going here — pecans or walnuts for the almonds, any kind of mixed green especially arugula if you’re just cooking for grown ups.  I couldn’t resist a beautiful red-leaf lettuce from JR Organics at the farmer’s market, which I mixed with radicchio for extra color.  Mr. Picky and his younger cousins had their salads with grapes and almonds and got to try the moldy cheese if they wanted to, which they didn’t.  No problem.  I am an experienced mother, who by this point has learned that mold is an acquired taste, after all.

Mixed Greens with Grapes, Gorgonzola (or Roquefort) and Almonds
Serves: 4
  • Dressing: (really similar to Everyday Salad Dressing #2)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons raw honey
  • 2 Tablespoons unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
  • 6 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces of mixed greens
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved
  • ¼ cup (or less) crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together shallot, salt, pepper to taste, honey and vinegar. Pour olive oil into the bowl in a steady stream, whisking until emulsified.
  2. Mound greens onto a serving platter. Lightly dress the greens with some of the vinaigrette.
  3. In a small bowl, lightly coat the grapes with some of the dressing and scatter on top of the greens (that way the grapes won't get buried.) Top the salad with the crumbled cheese and sliced almonds. Drizzle with any remaining dressing, if needed.

mixed greens with grapes, gorgonzola (or roquefort) and almonds

serves 4

Dressing: (really similar to Everyday Salad Dressing #2)

1 small shallot, minced

½ teaspoon sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons raw honey

2 Tablespoons unpasteurized apple cider vinegar

6 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil


8 ounces of mixed greens

1 cup red grapes, halved

¼ cup (or less) crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese

¼ cup sliced almonds

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together shallot, salt, pepper to taste, honey and vinegar.  Pour olive oil into the bowl in a steady stream, whisking until emulsified.
  2. Mound greens onto a serving platter.  Lightly dress the greens with some of the vinaigrette.
  3. In a small bowl, lightly coat the grapes with some of the dressing and scatter on top of the greens (that way the grapes won’t get buried.)   Top the salad with the crumbled cheese and sliced almonds.  Drizzle with any remaining dressing, if needed.

Basil Parsley Pesto Recipe


basil-parsley pesto | pamela salzman

I am willing to bet that I have eaten more pesto in my life than all of you.  Let me give you a little background.  My father has an expert green thumb and has maintained amazing gardens throughout my life.  Every year, he plants one large plot with a wide variety of beautiful vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, cucumbers, arugula, kale, and so on.  And he also plants one plot of basil.  Just basil.  And every year he has so many basil plants that he has to give them away.  Same story this year.  “Pamela.  I have enough basil plants for all of New York.”  I know what you’re thinking.  Why does your father overplant basil every year?  Trust me, don’t ask.

Well, it’s a good thing we all liked basil growing up!  Because as you might imagine, we were putting it on everything, from our morning eggs to tomato salads to sauteed green beans to macerated strawberries.  But using a few handfuls of green leaves everyday was not putting a dent into our basil farm.  My father would rant and rave (in Italian).  “Do we not eat basil in this house?  I planted so much beautiful basil and no one eats it.  Mah!”  I can still picture the kitchen sink most summer mornings with freshly cut bushes of basil.  “Pamela, if we don’t pick it now, it will turn to seed and then the plant will die.”  Really?  Well I heard you can die from a basil overdose.

My mother had no choice but to turn to pesto.  What better way to use an overabundance of the herb?  Mom pulled out the blender and ground up pine nuts and fresh garlic.  She packed down as much basil as would fit, sprinkled it with salt and with the motor running, slowly poured in the olive oil.  That distinctive aroma would fill the house and still today reminds me of the summers of my youth.  Next came the grated parmesan cheese and we had glorious pesto.  I say glorious, because my sisters and I loved it.  I think my mother probably would have started drinking hard liquor if we didn’t.

Lucky for me that I married someone who loves pesto and gave birth to kids who do, too.  We put it on lots of things — pasta, sandwiches, grilled vegetables, ho-hum chicken or fish, minestrone soup, scrambled eggs, boiled potatoes, pizza and so on.  But I make it my own way with a combination of pine nuts and walnuts; pecorino-romano, which is made from sheep’s milk cheese and a little easier for some to digest than cow’s milk; and dare I say, with half basil and half parsley.  I am obsessed with parsley, which I consider a superfood.  It is loaded with chloropyhll and incredibly rich in nutrients from iron to calcium to Vitamin C.  But parsley also contains some interesting volatile oil compounds that are considered to be “chemoprotective,” which means they can help neutralize certain carcinogens.  The flavor of a basil-parsley pesto is still dominated by basil, but somehow a little lighter.  I actually prefer it to an all-basil pesto.  Of course, the real reason I even started to do half and half is because I always manage to plant way too much parsley.

basil-parsley pesto | pamela salzman

Basil-Parsley Pesto
Serves: makes 2 cups
  • makes 2 cups
  • ¼ cup raw walnuts
  • ¼ cup raw pine nuts
  • 1 ½ - 2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 ½ cups basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 2 ½ cups flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly packed
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • couple of grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup grated pecorino-romano or parmesan cheese**
  1. Place the walnuts, pine nuts, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until finely chopped.
  2. Add the basil and parsley leaves, salt and pepper. Start the food processor and slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is finely pureed. Add the parmesan cheese and puree until well blended. Pesto freezes beautifully.
**To make a dairy-free/vegan version, eliminate the salt and cheese and substitute ¼ cup brown rice miso or other hearty miso. Taste for salt.