Sunday, December 30, 2018

Baked Risotto…with Mushrooms & Spinach

Almost every holiday season I teach a class that includes several recipes for meals that are relatively quick and simple.  The goal is to give cooks a few tools to prepare fresh hot meals for their families in the midst of a season when there isn’t a lot of time to cook.  Not surprisingly, it is a popular class.  I have heard back from several people who have made some of the recipes part of their regular repertoire.  Two of the recipes (Butternut Squash & Black Bean Burritos and Broccoli Cheese Soup)  have already appeared on my blog.  Today—even though the holidays are mostly over—I wanted to share another: Baked Risotto with Mushrooms & Spinach.

You may notice that I used the phrase “relatively quick” when I described the recipes in this class.  I always start this particular class with my definition of a “quick” meal.  Not everyone’s definition is the same.  To me, if I can sit down to the table an hour after I walk into the kitchen, that’s quick.  I know that to some people less than 30 minutes is the bar…and there is a place for this kind of speed…but to me this falls more into the realm of warming up leftovers…or throwing together a sandwich or minimal salad.  It isn’t typically the kind of thing I would teach in a class.
This baked risotto fits easily into my one hour window.  And you can shorten your time to 45 minutes if you have good knife skills.  Begin by preheating your oven, heating the stock, dicing the onion and mincing the garlic.  As soon as they are cut, start cooking the onion and garlic.  While the onion cooks, slice and sauté the mushrooms.  At this point (after about 15 minutes of work) you will add the rice to the onions

..and then the wine.  When the wine has reduced, add the mushrooms 

and an amount of hot stock equal to twice the volume of your rice.  Salt, stir, cover and transfer to the oven and cook for 10 minutes. 

During this ten minute window prepare the spinach and grate the Parmesan.  If you are using boxed, triple-washed spinach, just remove any large stems and chop very roughly.  If it is truly baby spinach, you probably won’t need to chop it.  If you have unwashed spinach (from the farmer’s market, for example), this will add to your prep time.  In this case, the first thing I do (before I start the onion) is to start washing the spinach.  I trim/strip away any large stems and rinse it in as many changes of water as is necessary to get rid of the grit (check out my post on washing greens if you are unsure of how to do this).  I weave in multiple changes of water and spinning the leaves dry while I’m cooking the onions and mushrooms and grating the cheese.

After ten minutes of cooking, take the risotto out of the oven.  Give it a good stir.  It will have absorbed most of the stock.  If it seems very tight, add enough of the hot stock to loosen it up, remembering that the spinach will release liquid while it cooks.  Add the spinach and stir in.  Taste…season if necessary.  Cover and return to the oven.  At this point you will have ten to fifteen minutes (while the risotto finishes cooking and rests) to set the table…pour wine…start the dishes…or even cook a piece of fish or a chicken cutlet if you want to serve the risotto as a side. 

Check the risotto after eight minutes.  It should be al dente.  If it is still a bit crunchy, return it to the oven for another couple of minutes.  When the risotto is done cooking you will have the opportunity to correct the creaminess and consistency by stirring, and by adding stock, 

butter and Parmesan—just as you would with regular stove top risotto.  Aim for a thick—yet fluid—consistency.  Cover and let the risotto rest for three to five minutes.  Correct the consistency again and serve. 

This method can be easily adapted to other additions.  As with this recipe, you can introduce the additions at any point (beginning—like the mushrooms…middle—like the spinach…or end—herbs, other cooked elements, etc.).  The addition of the liquids will be exactly the same as in this recipe.  Simply start with liquid (stock) equal to twice the volume of rice, adding a bit more half way through and again at the finish.  (You will probably end up using almost three times the volume of liquid as rice.)

The finished risotto will not have quite the creaminess or finesse of a risotto you have tended and cooked in the usual way…but it will be very good.  Better, I would contend, than most of those convenience foods that you would be able to get to the table in less than 30 minutes….

Baked Risotto with Mushrooms & Spinach

3 T. unsalted butter
1 small to medium onion (about 6 oz.), finely diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. Arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
4 to 4 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock, hot
1 T. olive oil, plus more as needed
12 oz. mushrooms (white, crimini, oyster, shiitake, etc.), trimmed as necessary and sliced
5  to 6 oz. cleaned (large or stringy stems pinched off or stripped away) baby spinach, washed, dried and roughly chopped if necessary
2/3 c. finely grated Parmesan (2 oz.)
3 T. unsalted butter

Heat the butter in a 3 1/2-quart (or slightly larger) straight-sided sauté pan or Dutch oven.  Add the onion and garlic and sweat until soft, but not brown—10 minutes or so. 

While the onion cooks, heat another tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot add the mushrooms and sauté until golden and softened and any liquid they release has been reabsorbed.  If the mushrooms seem dry, add a bit of butter or more olive oil.  (If you don’t have a non-stick sauté pan, use a regular sauté pan and deglaze the pan with a splash of water, wine or stock.  Reduce to a glaze.)  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

When the onions are nice and soft, add the rice and continue to cook for a minute or two.  Add the wine and cook until the pan is nearly dry.  Add the mushrooms and 3 cups of the hot stock.  Bring to a boil, taste for salt, cover and transfer to a 400° oven.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and stir well.  Taste and add salt if necessary. If it seems dry, add a splash of the remaining hot stock.  Add the spinach and stir it in.  The pan will seem crowded, but this is OK…the spinach will collapse quickly as it cooks—and it will release more liquid to help moisten the rice.  Cover the pan and return the pan to the oven. 

Continue to bake the risotto until it is tender.  Check after 8 minutes.  It should be al dente…but not crunchy.  If it seems crunchy, return it to the oven for another couple of minutes.  When done remove from the oven and stir.  Add and stir in as much of the remaining broth as you need to obtain a creamy, soft consistency.  Add the remaining butter and the cheese and stir well...again, adding more stock if necessary.  Cover the pan and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes. 

Serve immediately.  Serves 4 generously.  Serves 6 generously as a side dish.

Variation:  This dish is a great way to use leftover roast turkey or chicken.  Add 4 to 6 oz. (about 1 1/2 c.) shredded roast turkey or chicken after the rice comes out of the oven (warm the meat briefly in a bit of stock before adding).

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