I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting side dishes, preferrably something that will give me a nice, healthy dosage of vegetables.
Photo courtesy of La Cucina Italiana
When I saw this feature of Oven Baked Risotto in our latest Magazine of the Month, La Cucina Italiana, I was skeptical. Risotto is often heavy and laden with cream and cheese, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out as a side dish. However, because it’s our Magazine of the Month I’m obligated to make this stuff without even reading the recipe instructions. Whether this is for your amusement or delight I have no idea, but since I picked out the magazine, I have to cook this stuff.
As it turned out, I had no reason to fear. This risotto and vegetable combination was finger-lickin’ good.
Vegetables are sauteed separately from the risotto, and the two don’t come together until the end when they’re baked. Buttered ramekins are filled with some of the risotto and a well is made in the center. Sauteed vegetables are then spooned into the center, more risotto is placed on top and packed down, to cover the vegetables tightly, then they’re baked in the oven for 15 minutes.
If you’ve never been sold on risotto before, this one will make you a believer. It was hearty, but not overwhelmingly so like with other risottos. Keeping the vegetables separate, rather than mixing them up with the rice, keeps the clean flavors from becoming muddled. Every bite was a delicious treat and the crisp-tender vegetables keep a rich risotto from becoming too heavy. This was absolutely outstanding and is going into my keeper stack.
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana
4 large porcini mushrooms or whatever you’ve got (about 7 ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for ramekins
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4 -inch dice
1/2 small zucchini, cut into 1 ⁄4 -inch dice
1 medium tomato, cored and cut into 1/4 -inch dice
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, heated to a simmer
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
The recipe comes from an interesting article on porcini mushrooms, so it’s too bad I couldn’t find any at the grocery store. Instead I went with baby bellas and they were delicious. Anything you like will do, though as you can see in the top picture, porcinis are the most glamorous on top… which really didn’t matter in my house, since it was inhaled in minutes.
Our MoM, La Cucina Italiana, isn’t just Italian in the name. It’s flavors are all authentically Italian. I thought I knew what Italian flavors were and in many ways, I was wrong. That’s partly why I wanted to pick this magazine — I like that it challenges my palette and stretches me a little bit. The adventure is good, even if I don’t end up liking everything.
One thing in this dish that I automatically knew my Americanized palette wasn’t going to like was the addition of mint in the vegetable saute. I omitted that, and kept just the fresh sage and parsley. My ingredients listing above also omits the mint, but you can click the link for the original recipe and check it out if you’d like.
I didn’t use ramekins. I went bigger. Like a dummy, I served up doubled portions of the risotto alongside sauteed boneless, skinless chicken breasts. This was way too much food and the risotto was such a big hit, we scarfed up the risotto and the chicken was an afterthought (leftovers tonight). I know small ramekins sound like tiny portions, but risotto really sticks to your ribs. If you’re serving this as a side dish, the small ramekins are probably best.
The fifteen minutes it spends in the oven is where the risotto absorbs a little more of the liquid and solidifies just enough that you can pop the whole thing out of the ramekins and serve them on a plate, like upside down pineapple cakes. But not. They’re risotto cakes… of deliciousness.
Trim mushrooms and cut stems from caps. Separately cut caps into 1/4-inch-thick slices and stems into 1/4-inch dice. In a large skillet melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. In a single layer, add mushroom caps and cook until softened, about 1 1/2 minutes per side; transfer to a plate and season with salt and pepper.
Add 2 tablespoons oil to skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add mushroom stems, celery, carrot and zucchini. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add tomato and cook until any liquid from tomato has evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes more. Remove from heat and toss with parsley, sage, mint and pinch salt and pepper.
Heat oven to 400º.
In a large saucepan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook until lightly golden then add rice, stir to coat with oil and cook for 1 minute more. Add wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any bits. Cook until wine is mostly evaporated, then add 1 cup broth and reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring, until broth is mostly absorbed, 5 to 7 minutes. In 1/2 cupfuls, add remaining broth, stirring until each addition is mostly absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite (you may have broth left over). Remove from heat and stir in cheese and remaining tablespoon butter.
Generously butter ramekins. Line bottoms with a single layer of mushroom tops (chop any leftover tops and add to vegetable mixture). Put 1/4 cup risotto into each ramekin, then press risotto into the bottom and up the sides of the ramekins to create cavities. Fill each cavity with 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable mixture, then top with remaining risotto, packing tightly. Place remaining vegetable mixture in a small baking dish. Place ramekins and baking dish with vegetables on a baking sheet; bake for 15 minutes.
Remove risotto and vegetables from oven. Run a paring knife around edges of ramekins. Invert risotto onto serving plates and sprinkle with pepper. Serve warm with vegetables.