Risotto always makes for a nice, comforting meal during the week. Yes, it takes a bit of time and requires a bit of stove-side attention, but I find the constant stirring to be rather relaxing, especially after a busy day at work when the time spent doing something mindless and repetitive can be rather therapeutic.
But perhaps we all don’t have this luxury of time to quietly meditate over the stove, or – more likely – some of us just don’t have the darn patience to stir endlessly for 20 minutes or so.
A friend recently told me that she tried making risotto the traditional way once and was stunned by the effort required. Since then, she has resorted to recipes for baked risotto, claiming that the rice is still as creamy as though it were made on the stove.
I had always thought that making risotto in the oven, and essentially cooking it like you would rice, would make the rice go soft and claggy. And I’m rather fussy about my risotto – it has to be creamy and soft and without a hint of bite, but not so soft that it can be served in a nursing home for the elderly.
Having recently purchased Rachel Allen’s new book, Easy Meals, I wanted to try her recipe for Tomato & Rosemary Risotto with Meatballs. I had all of the ingredients at home except for the minced beef, and it looked like a nice and simple dish for the middle of the week. It was only when I was mid-way cooking did I realise that the risotto was going to be baked in the oven. I considered ignoring Rachel’s instructions and making it the traditional way, but faced with the possibility of getting dinner on the table sooner, I continued to follow her recipe.
The risotto starts off first on the stove whereby you sauté some onions and garlic as per normal, then add the aborio rice, followed by some white wine and a can of tinned tomatoes. The rice is partially cooked in all of this liquid, to which you then add all of the stock and some seasoning, pop a lid on the pan and put everything into the oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking.
Putting the pan of risotto into the oven felt like a revelation. Suddenly my hands were free to do other things, like cook the meatballs and set the table.
And the result? The risotto was not as claggy as I had expected, though it was certainly softer than if it had been cooked the traditional way. The addition of grated parmesan at the end added some creaminess to the risotto but, overall, I don’t think the dish suffered for having been baked in the oven. Having now tasted a baked risotto, it would obviously be worthwhile to employ this method if you have guests over. The last time we had visitors and I had made risotto, I was stuck in the kitchen for about half an hour just amusing myself with some stirring while everyone else was catching up on the latest gossip in the next room. In such instances, the constant stirring is not at all therapeutic but just plainly unfair – to the cook and to the guests.
I think this risotto would be great served on its own, though the meatballs hardly take any time to prepare and cook. You could also substitute the rosemary for another herb such as basil or parsley, or indeed use all three. In fact, you could just replace the fresh rosemary with a good sprinkle of dried Italian herbs and make this a true store-cupboard dish.