One of the advantages of making a baked risotto is that it can be prepared ahead and finished off in the oven to brown the top and melt the cheese when you are ready.
4 Tbsp butter 500g (about 1 lb) medium-sized closed cup portabello mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth and cut into thick slices Salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 Tbsp olive oil 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 400g (14 oz) can crushed Italian tomatoes 2 Tbsp finely chopped basil 1 litre (4 cups) light vegetable stock 350g (12 oz) Italian arborio rice 100ml (3-4 fl oz) dry white wine 50g (½ cup) freshly grated parmesan cheese 150g (5 oz) mozzarella cheese, drained and sliced
1 Heat a large frying pan (skillet) over a high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter, let it sizzle and add mushrooms. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice; the butter will be absorbed and the pan dry. Season, lower heat and continue stirring until juices start to run from the mushrooms. Cook until most of the juice has evaporated.
2 Put oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until pale golden. Add tomatoes, basil and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook gently, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Pour all but ½ cup of the mixture into a bowl. Set aside.
3 Bring stock to a simmer, then set heat so it is kept very hot, but doesn’t boil and evaporate.
4 Add rice to the tomato sauce in pan. Increase temperature to medium-high and stir for 2-3 minutes. Pour in wine and cook, stirring, until it has evaporated. Then stir in a ladleful of stock. This will evaporate quickly. Add a second ladleful of stock and stir gently, but continuously, until stock has evaporated. Continue cooking in this way, stirring every few seconds (if you don’t stir, the rice will stick to the pan), adding more stock once the rice is no longer sloppy. Continue until the rice is about three-quarters cooked. Aim to finish with the rice sloppy but not soupy (15-18 minutes).
5 Layer ingredients in a buttered 20cm (8”) ovenproof dish. Put in half the rice and parmesan, all the mushrooms, tomato sauce and mozzarella, then finish with remaining rice and parmesan. (The dish can be prepared ahead to this point and refrigerated, but it must be brought to room temperature before cooking.)
6 Dot the top with butter. Bake risotto in an oven preheated to 200°C (400°F) for 15-20 minutes, until crisp on top and heated through. Allow risotto to stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Risotto is a great dish for cooler weather because it is filling – love those carbs on cold nights! There are a few tricks to ensure success, but the only essential ingredient is the right grain of rice. You can use butter or olive oil, include wine or not and use homemade stock or vegetable water. Then stir in what you like – cooked rosemary baked pumpkin, steamed and chopped baby broccolini, fried eggplant (aubergine), sautéed prawns or steamed clams, cubes of blue cheese and so on.
Making a good risotto is easy enough when armed with a few tips. It’s essential to use the correct rice, a stubby grain that has the ability to absorb lots of liquid, and therefore flavour, while giving out a creamy starch. The end result should be plump rice grains creamily bound together, though each grain should separate easily from the mass.
In Italy there are several varieties of rice to choose from. Arborio is the best known and is widely available. It’s an all-purpose type that does most jobs well.
Vialone nano is particularly good for Venetian-style risottos, especially seafood, where the desired result is a little more liquid than risottos from other regions.
The premium grain, and most expensive, is carnaroli. It produces a rich creamy risotto while maintaining a perfectly firm texture.
If you are a novice, start with arborio, and transition to the Ferron brand of vialone nano and carnaroli if your budget allows (Ferron carnaroli is nearly three times the price of arborio rice, though there are reasons why). See how to make a basic risotto using Ferron rice Ferron Rice Risotto
Don’t wash the rice before cooking because the clinging starch helps make the risotto creamy. The agitation brought about by stirring also encourages the release of starch.
Choose a light unsalted vegetable or chicken stock. Avoid over seasoned stocks, or stocks with strong flavours because these will be emphasised through reduction. If you run out of stock, top up with water. Always work with hot stock to ensure the cooking momentum is not lost, and add only a ladleful at a time – don’t swamp the rice.
Stir constantly, or it will stick. It will take around 18-25 minutes to cook.