The first time I made risotto was with a friend. She pulled out her heaviest cast-iron pot and unearthed a well-worn wooden spoon that was bent ever so slightly. Its curve had developed over many years of use and it fit her hand perfectly. In order to preserve its form, she kept it hidden away so that well-meaning family members wouldn’t accidentally run it through the dishwasher or use it to encourage the blender to blend.
We started by chopping onions and sweating them in a puddle of melted butter until they were translucent. Then the rice went in and the heat went up, so that the individual grains would become slick with the butter and begin to toast. Just when the room began to smell impossibly fragrant, she poured in white wine, causing a puff of boozy steam to hover over the stove for a moment.
Then we started the process of stirring and adding hot chicken stock. The time went quickly because we were together, catching up and taking turns minding the pot. However, even in the joy of that moment, I could see how some people might find the necessary stirring a tedious act. That night, we finished our risotto with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, peas (from the freezer but still tender and sweet) and cubes of salty ham. With a salad, it was a complete meal and one we both enjoyed.
A few weeks back, my husband and I were having friends over for dinner. I was making grilled salmon and a chilled asparagus salad and needed one more thing to serve. Awash in deadlines and errands, I needed to find something easier than a classic risotto, but more refined than a simple pot of rice. Internet searches led me to Ina Garten’s recipe for Easy Parmesan “Risotto.”
The reason for the quotes is that instead of being cooked on a stove-top, the rice is combined with stock and baked in a moderate oven until the rice puffs and all the liquid is absorbed. Once done, you stir in wine, cheese, butter and peas (as well as salt and pepper). What you’re left with is a lovely, fluffy, creamy rice dish that evokes risotto, but was entirely hands off. Perfect for busy dinner parties and The Weekender.
Before you preheat your oven, here are a few things you should know:
- Ina’s recipe instructs you to combine the rice and stock and then cover and bake for 45 minutes. I recommend that you start checking the rice after 30 minutes, particularly if you prefer your rice to retain a bit of that classic risotto bite.
– If you’re using store-bought stock (no shame in that), make sure to get the low-sodium version. That way, you won’t end up with a salt lick when you add the Parmesan cheese.
– I find that for dishes like this one, I like to finish them with a bit of lemon zest. It adds incredible fragrance and makes the flavor of the white wine hum nicely.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, called Food in Jars: Canning in Small Batches Year Round, is now available.