I also got George Calombaris’ new cookbook Greek for my birthday. 😀
Spanakoriso is basically “rice with spinach” in Greek, and if you take a quick look on Pinterest, you will find many dishes consisting of regular rice with very finely cut spinach (more resembling Mexican rice). George turned it into a creamy risotto, so entirely unlike those ones.
Mostly known as the likable presenter of Masterchef Australia, George Calombaris is a very accomplished chef who really revamped the Greek/Cypriot cuisine into a fine dining affair at his – 2 hatted – Melbourne restaurant The Press Club. At the moment his emporium expands to 4 other restaurants (3 locations of Hellenic Republic, Mastic, Gazi, 5 outlets of the Jimmy Grants chain) and his molecular gastronomy sandbox The Press Club – Projects. It’s always a pleasure to see George performing one of his masterclasses in Masterchef Australia and churn out amazing dishes.
This 300-page Greek cookbook is highly recommended and a joy to read as well. The testimonials are very funny, but more importantly, the mix of recipes in Greek is excellent, informative, and accessible. They do sometimes showcase some of the “cheffy” culinary techniques that boost the look and taste of George’s dishes.
The critical component for this dish to get its vibrant green color is blanching the leaves of a bunch of curly parsley (about 30-45 seconds) and transfer them immediately to an ice bath. In the meantime sweat off a finely chopped spring onion clove of garlic until soft, add 125ml / half cup of double cream and bring to a simmer. Take it off the heat, add the drained and squeezed parsley to the cream and blitz it until entirely smooth and then put the cream into the fridge until last-minute addition to the risotto. The chlorophyll from the curly parsley will give it an intense green color and due to the blanching, the flavor of the parsley will remain intact. Please note that it only works with curly parsley, not with flat-leaf parsley!
What worked and what didn’t:
The taste was great, but it obviously is a classic combination, to begin with. We really liked the spinach and freshness coming from the lemon juice and zest.
From a presentation/consistency perspective, as you can see, that not everything went according to plan. The risotto should have had the same color as fresh parsley, and mine definitely did not. Typically, in professional kitchens, you would use a high-power Thermomix or Pacojet for these kinds of blending jobs, but I had to resort to a stick blender. As the amount of cream is not very much and I didn’t have a small enough vessel to blend it in, the blender-head could not be fully immersed and therefore aerated the cream way too fast before being able to fully incorporate the parsley into the cream. The taste was definitely there, but there were still too many strands of parsley visible in the cream and therefore also not as green as it should be. In any case, you should avoid a whipped cream consistency 😉
The recipe is easy to follow, accurate, but definitely serves 6 rather than 4, also because you add 500g / 1 pound of spinach.
I followed the ratios from the recipe: 300g / 10½ oz risotto rice to 1 liter/4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock. There is no white wine involved, but in the end, you do add the parsley cream. This a 2-step risotto recipe, so you first add 1 cup of hot stock to the risotto rice that was toasted in 60ml /4 tbsp of olive oil and stir until fully absorbed, then you add all remaining stock to the pan, stir and cook for 10 minutes with the lid closed. Remove the risotto from the heat and let it stand covered until you’re ready sautéing the spinach (which needed to be done in 2 batches and takes about 10 minutes). Finally, finish by stir in the spinach, parsley cream, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Do note that the spanakoriso will thicken a little bit due to the reaction between the lemon juice and the parsley cream!
According to the note to the recipe, the spanakoriso should remain “loose” and not dry, however, it turned out very wet, and the risotto rice was still undercooked and chalky. My best guess is that too little stock was absorbed during a relatively short cooking period, so I’d recommend cooking the rice at least 15 minutes and add all but 100ml / 3½ oz of stock in the second batch, so you can adjust the consistency later on if needed.
George finishes the spanakoriso it with grated kefalougaviera cheese. According to the recipe, if you can’t find any (or its non-PDO sibling kefalotyri), you can substitute it for parmesan cheese. However, as these Greek cheeses are made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk, it would be better to use Pecorino Romano rather than parmesan (which is made from cow’s milk).
Feta cheese – or a mix of feta and kefalougaviera/pecorino – would be great too as it is used in the filling of spanakopita, the fabulous Greek spinach, and cheese pastry!
Verdict: 8/10; Tasty, so will be made again, but likely not according to this recipe.
Spanakoriso Arancini With Mozzarella
As said, the quantity definitely was for 6 persons, so we had ample leftovers. So after a night in the fridge, I used the slightly firmer spanakoriso for some arancini based on the Rich and Creamy Saffron Arancini With Mozzarella recipe I found here on Serious Eats.
The only reason that I chose this recipe was the fact that a 2:1 water and flour “slurry” was used instead of an egg wash as a coating agent for the panko breadcrumbs.
The slurry worked very well, and after 4 to 5 minutes in the hot oil (180℃/355℉), we got 10 very crispy and lovely oozing arancini!
Verdict: 9/10; Very tasty, so will definitely be made again