Thursday, December 30, 2010

Set It & Forget It. The Easiest Risotto Ever!

It’s not often that I get giddy about a recipe. Well, maybe I get giddy about recipes more often than the average person, but it’s not out of control or anything. It's just that I can't help but get enthusiastic when something that seems too good to be true, culinarily speaking, ends up delivering on its promise. This particular bout of giddiness started with a healthy dose of skepticism when presented with the notion of a risotto that could be made entirely in the oven. A sort of set-it-and-forget-it risotto. The last time I was this excited about a recipe it was for Sullivan Street Bakery's 4-ingredient French Boule you make in a Dutch oven that requires absolutely no bread-making skills whatsoever. The one that flew around the internet a couple of years ago faster than Lindsay Lohan’s latest mug shot.

I happened upon this improbable recipe way too early one morning, bleary eyed, as I stumbled around the kitchen trying to make some coffee, the Today Show droning in the background. As I took my first few sips and felt the caffeine starting to course through my veins (a sure sign that I’m coming alive for the day) I noticed Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) on the screen touting recipes from her latest tome, How Easy Is That? I admit I was only half paying attention to her chirpy banter with Matt Lauer until she started talking about a recipe for the “easiest risotto ever!” A risotto that requires “almost no stirring.” A risotto as creamy and delicious as any you’ve ever had. She had me at “no stirring.”

I turned up the TV and paid close attention. She explained to an inquisitive Matt that this was a risotto that didn’t require constant stirring. If you’ve ever made risotto, or been too afraid to attempt it, it’s usually the constant stirring thing that puts people off. She casually poured the Arborio rice into a Dutch oven, along with some simmering chicken stock, homemade of course, because we all have that on hand. She explained that the whole procession would be placed into a 350º oven for a mere forty-five minutes and through the magic of television, produced a steaming pot of pretty unimpressive-looking rice. But then, before our eyes the magic did happen and it had nothing to do with television. I watched intently as she stirred in some more chicken stock, a splash of white wine, a generous handful of Parmesan cheese and of course, a big knob of butter. As she continued to stir vigorously, the rather sad-looking mixture began to pull together into a creamy, glossy and cohesive looking pot of gorgeous risotto. I blinked a few times, assuming I was still half asleep, but there it was on the screen, a risotto as delicious and sumptuous looking as any I’d ever seen and one that defied the very logic of the dish.

Needless to say, I decided I had to try this particular method of making risotto that very night for dinner. The recipe was still fresh in my head, but I couldn't help being a bit skeptical as I gathered my ingredients, all of which I happened to have on hand (with the exception of that fantasy homemade chicken stock). I settled for boxed stock and just hoped the entire notion of a no-stir risotto from the oven wasn’t the biggest fantasy of all.

I tweaked the recipe slightly, adding a minced shallot and a couple of cloves of garlic to bump up the flavor. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly as Ina had demonstrated it for Matt. Forty-five minutes later I pulled the pot from the oven and began stirring in the remaining ingredients. This is where skepticism slowly gave way to giddiness, because just as it had on the TV screen, with no magic involved, the unimpressive-looking rice really did pull together into a creamy, glossy and downright gorgeous pot of risotto. The texture of the rice was absolutely perfect too, exactly as it would have been if I'd spent the last half hour mindlessly ladling and stirring on the stove top. I wondered where this technique had been all my life. The full-blown giddiness (the kind that induces a little dance) came of course, with the first bite, because this was without a doubt, some of the most delicious risotto I’d ever tasted.

And just as Ina promised Matt, it was the "easiest risotto ever."

Easy Parmesan "Risotto"
(Recipe adapted from Ina Garten)

While not technically a classic Italian risotto, this sure is easy. I found the process for this recipe in a book by Donna Hay, the wonderful cookbook writer from Australia. I make it with my homemade chicken stock, lots of freshly grated Parmesan, and frozen peas. Risotto in the oven? You have to make this to believe it!

Serves 4 to 6

1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups simmering chicken stock, preferably homemade, divided
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas

Preheat the oven to 350

Place the rice and 4 cups of the chicken stock in a Dutch oven along with the shallots and garlic. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente. Remove from the oven, add the remaining cup of chicken stock, the Parmesan, wine, butter, salt and pepper, and stir vigorously for two to three minutes, until the rice is thick and creamy. Add the peas and stir until heated through. Serve hot.

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