Did you still let your birthdays be a big deal?

I was ready to let mine slide quietly by, since it wasn’t a milestone or anything. But Jeff was not having it. He took me out ALL WEEKEND LONG, from Friday afternoon to Sunday night. There was the unholy goodness of an apple fritter doughnut at Fox’s Donut Den. Catching Aziz Ansari at TPAC. Scoring some early strawberries at the farmer’s market. Hot chicken. Sunday lunch at Mom’s with balloons on the mailbox. Hide-and-seek with my nieces and nephews. Singing all the way back to Nashville. Meeting Mike and Windy for Sunday Supper at City House and shutting the place down.

It was big loud fun.

Today, I’m doing quiet fun. Just me in the kitchen in my PJs, stirring a big pot of risotto. This vegetarian version is made with creamy arborio rice swirled with a mountain of spinach and a big handful (or two) of punchy feta cheese. It’s rich and comforting and so good with sautéed mushrooms on top.

If you don’t have 25 minutes to spend stirring the pot, then don’t make this on a Monday. Pencil it in for Sunday afternoon, preferably with some good music in the background. Soul music is especially good on Sundays (go figure), but you could have your own tribute to The Band. Crank up Jack White’s new album. Sing along to some old-school hip-hop. Whatever puts you into a blissful risotto-stirring state of mind.

And don’t ever let your birthday slide quietly by.

They’re all milestones. Go large.

Spinach Feta Risotto

If you’d like to replace the white wine in this recipe with something nonalcoholic, use white grape juice, apple cider, apple juice or ginger ale.

Slightly adapted from “Moosewood Restaurant New Classics”

Makes 4 to 6 servings

    Mushroom Topping:

  • 3 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 tablespoon dried thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
    Risotto:

  • 5 cups vegetable stock (or 4 cups stock plus 1 cup water)*
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped (about 10 cups)
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  1. For the Mushrooms: Place a saucepan over medium heat, and warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms and garlic, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add thyme and 2 tablespoons of wine, and cook for 1 minute more. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to low, and keep the mushrooms warm until the risotto is ready.
  2. Pour the stock into a saucepan, and heat it to a low simmer.
  3. In the meantime, place a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and sauté the onions for about 5 minutes, until golden.
  4. Add the rice, and stir with a wooden spoon until the grains are coated with oil.
  5. Add the 1/2 cup of wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine is absorbed.
  6. Add the simmering stock 1 cup at a time. Cook, stirring frequently, until each cup is absorbed before adding the next. Continue until all of the stock is used and the rice is tender but still al dente, about 25 minutes.
  7. When the rice has absorbed all of the stock, add the spinach, cover, and cook for about 2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted but still bright green.
  8. Stir in the feta cheese.
  9. Serve each portion topped with the sautéed mushrooms.

*Gluten-Free Tip: Make sure your vegetable stock is gluten-free.

Nutritional Info Per 13-Ounce Serving–calories: 399, protein: 8.8g, fat: 14.5g, carbs: 56.7g, fiber: 5.9g.