There are some things I do with great ceremony in the kitchen. Work butter into a pie crust, chop carrots for a soup, butter up a whole chicken for roasting. It can all be pretty precious. A luxury, really.
Truthfully, I do these same things in a total slap-dash if I’m in a hurry and need the comfort of pie, soup, or crisp chicken skin in a dang hurry.
Let’s talk about making risotto. It’s all ceremony. The simmering broth, the toasting of the rice, the spooning and stirring, spooning and stirring. I do it well here: Mushroom and Sausage Risotto. It’s a dream.
And then there are the times when I’m doing fourteen things at once (mostly I’m just trying to wash the dishes from the day, watching reality television on my computer, and trying to figure out dinner) and risotto finds its place in the oven. It’s baked, starchy, savory, bright, and cheesy. It’s completely comforting and that’s where we’re at exactly right now.
Here’s what’s on the list for this baked risotto:
• olive oil, diced onions and minced garlic.
• Aborio rice – it’s short grain and starchy.
• a lovely amount of lemon zest, lemon juice, and fresh thyme
• frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed within an inch of its life
• chicken stock and a dangerously generous amount of grated parmesan cheese
We’ll start by sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil until they’re tender and browned. Feels good, smells good.
The dry rice gets toasted and coated in fat along with the onions and garlic.
Once the rice is toasted and fragrant, we’ll add a heaping bit of fresh lemon zest. The heat will bring out the lemon oils.
And fresh thyme!
Crushed red pepper flakes for good heat.
Salt and pepper, too because balance is what we’re going for.
The rice + onion + lemon mixture goes into a buttered baking dish along with the frozen and thawed and squeezed spinach. Add warm chicken broth.
Add also, a pleasing amount of grated parmesan cheese.
I like to add finely grated cheese over the shredded Parmesan. The grated cheese melts more evenly.
Get it in there. Give her a good stir. And into the oven!
The risotto simmers away in the oven and we’ll reach in three or so times to give the mixture a stir and add a bit more broth if the rice is thirsty.
We’re going for a starchy almost creamy and thick rice dish where the rice is cooked through but still has a bit of bite to it. As the dish sits, it will continue to absorb liquid.
To finish: fresh parsley + more cheese (because that makes sense) and crushed red pepper flakes.
Call a buddy. Pop the white wine. Settle in for a bowl or three.
Photos with my dear friend: Jon Melendez.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup small diced yellow onion
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- 2 cups dry Arborio rice
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
- 1 tabespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to top
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and excess water squeezed out
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, warmed
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to top
- butter for coating the dish
- chopped parsley for topping
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and set aside.
- In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until transluscent and browned, about 5 minutes. Just as the mixture is browning nicely, add dry rice and toss to coat. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the rice is toasted and just beginning to brown. Add the lemon zest, thyme leaves, chili flakes, salt and pepper and spinach. Toss to heat through.
- Transfer the onion and rice mixture to the prepared buttered dish. Pour warm chicken broth, water, and lemon juice over the rice mixture. Add cheese and stir gently to ensure even cooking.
- Place in the oven and allow to cook, uncovered for 40 - 45 minutes, stirring after 20 minutes. Rice is done when liquid is absorbed and mixture is cooked through and creamy. If rice mixture is still crunchy, add more hot water or hot chicken broth about 1/3 cup at a time.
- When cooked though, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before tasting. Add salt to taste. Serve topped with fresh parsley, crushed red pepper, and more cheese. Rice will last, in an airtight container in the fridge, for up to 3 days. If the rice becomes too thick in the refrigerator, loosen while heating with water or broth.