The Easiest Risotto
Risotto is one of my family’s favorite meals. It sounds fancy if you’re not familiar with it, but risotto is the name for a comfort food dish made out of arborio rice, which you can find at pretty much any supermarket alongside of regular rice. Arborio rice is a special kind of rice that loses its shape a bit and releases starch as it cooks, resulting in a rich, creamy meal that isn’t fattening.
Risotto is also a fantastic way to use up leftover chicken, veggies, parmesan cheese rinds, chicken broth, and pretty much anything else you have laying around. The only problem is that risotto can be a little bit time consuming to make. It’s not hard or anything – adding warm broth half a cup at a time isn’t difficult, but when there are two little monsters dismantling your house while you do it, it’s not the best way to spend an hour.
Ages ago, I shared this recipe for Easy Butternut Squash and Chicken risotto in the oven. It’s awesome, and got my single most favorite reader response of all time: this recipe was delicious and so easy it let me pour a glass of wine and watch my kids play outside while it cooked. If that’s not the definition of a keeper recipe, I’m not sure what is.
Then I had a baby, we moved, and I kind of forgot about this method of making risotto. I also fell in love with Alice Waters’ risotto in The Art of Simple Food. It’s flavorful, creamy, and everything risotto should be.
The problem is the preparation time.
So, I took a chance last week and threw everything in the oven to see if decent risotto could be made that way. I didn’t say anything to my husband about my tampering with our favorite recipe. He took a bite while it was cooling on the counter and said it was amazing. I might actually like it better than the stove-top method.
Here’s what we’re going to do.
First, let’s preheat the oven to 350.
Now, grab a dutch oven. Sauté the diced onion as well as the rice in one tablespoon of butter until the rice smells a little like popcorn and has some golden, toasty spots.
This part is important. You can omit it and still have good risotto, but this is the key to awesome risotto. Add a tiny pinch of saffron. Saffron is a reddish thread (ie: stigma) from the inside of a flower. Saffron is pricey because it’s so labor intensive to harvest, but you only use a teeny tiny amount in any recipe that calls for it. It gives that lovely yellow color and rich, complex taste. My lilliputian envelope of it lasts for months since I just use a few threads in any given recipe. So let’s stir a tiny pinch of saffron into the rice.
Now we’re going to add warm liquid. This recipe has lots of short cuts, but it is important to add liquid that is very warm. I bring my chicken stock to a boil and turn off the heat while I sauté the rice, then it’s just the right temperature. If you add cold liquid, the starches don’t release properly from the rice, and you’ll end up with chewier risotto.
I make my own chicken stock in the crock pot, and it’s pretty concentrated, so I do a 50/50 mix of water and stock. If I have white wine open, I’ll use that for half a cup of the liquid. I’ve also had success with a splash of vermouth, lighter colored beers (no stouts here, please), or red wine, but know that the red wine will give your risotto an odd, purplish color.
Now we’re going to stir the rice, put a lid on the pot, and pop it into the oven.
After about 30 minutes, check to see if the liquid has been absorbed. If not, return to the oven; if so, stir vigorously for 1 minute and add the remaining tablespoon of butter and cheese, if desired. The addition of this last bit of fat really helps the rice bind together and get that lovely risotto texture.
If you have leftover vegetables or meat, you can add them to the risotto as it cooks in the oven or warm them separately and serve on top of the rice.
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