After the carnivorous feasts of Christmas and New Year I look forward to cooking lighter dishes as spring approaches. I am a risotto maniac and always order it in restaurants when I see it on the menu.

The best risotto I have tasted has been on Burano, one of the islands on the north east lagoons of Venice.

The secret of a good risotto is the correct rice, well-flavoured stock and plenty of grated Parmigiano and butter. A bit of Italian sunshine always helps.

For the sauteed spinach

250g rinsed baby spinach

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 piece dried chilli

Sea salt

For the risotto

50g unsalted butter, plus more to finish

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

125mls dry white wine (optional)

1 litre well-flavoured stock, chicken or vegetable

300g risotto rice, Carnaroli or Arborio

Sea salt

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

2 tablespoons grated fontina or asiago or any mild, creamy cheese

Zest of an unwaxed lemon

Good squeeze of lemon juice to taste


Rinse the spinach in plenty of cold water and squeeze dry. Warm the oil in a large frying pan.

Add the garlic and chilli and sauté to flavour the oil.

Add the spinach, turn in the oil and sauté for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the garlic and chilli, season the spinach with sea salt and set aside.

Prepare the risotto by making a flavour base.

Warm the stock to simmering in a pot.

In another wide heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm the butter and olive oil. Add the chopped onion and celery, mix and with the lid on leave to sweat over a low heat for 10 minutes.

Raise the heat and stir in the rice. Leave to toast for a few minutes, stirring to prevent it sticking.

Stir in the wine and cook over a brisk heat until the alcohol has all evaporated.

Now, add hot stock, a ladleful at a time, intermittently stirring the rice, allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding more stock.

After all the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the cooked spinach and its liquid.

Once that liquid is absorbed test the rice to see that it is cooked. It should be moist and fluffy but still have a bite in the middle.

Take the risotto off the heat and beat in the grated cheeses and a final blob of butter.

Add the lemon zest, a good squeeze of lemon juice and check seasoning.

Cover the risotto and let it stand for 5 minutes to allow all the flavours to merge.