A few weeks ago, I was waxing rhapsodic about Patricia Wells’ fantastic Italian cookbook, Trattoria, which I’ve had for years and love dearly. I think the subtitle really says it all: ”Healthy, Simple, Robust Fare Inspired by the Small Family Restaurants of Italy.” Yes, please. These are recipes that are not particularly hard to make, but the flavors are fresh and delicious and you feel good cooking them and eating them. It’s happy food. We like happy food here at WIG HQ.
So, the baked risotto. This is a good one, particularly now that asparagus is in season (although not for much longer!). And I used these gorgeous spring onions, but you could go with shallots too. It’s also another one of those great recipes that lends itself to experimentation and substitutions, depending on your mood and/or the current contents of your refrigerator. Mushrooms would totally kick ass in this; also, I could even see tiny little cubes of fresh tofu nicely nestled in there. The original recipe doesn’t call for any particular herb, but thyme, sage or basil would all be lovely. It’s also pea season, so peas with a bit of mint would be another great combo. The world’s your oyster, people…ooh, oysters? That could also work! OK, I’ll stop now, but you get the idea.
Most non-vegetarians would probably consider this a side dish, but we love it with a quick frittata or even a couple poached eggs on top. Yes.
And I am dutifully including a pic of the cooked final product. And while it’s not nearly as lovely and green green green as the pre-baked image, it tastes much better.
Baked Risotto with Asparagus, Spinach and Parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
Sea salt, to taste
1 cup Italian Arborio rice
2-1/4 cups vegetable stock
4 cups loosely packed fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-sized diagonal slices
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tablespoon basil, finely chopped
Zest of half a lemon
Hot pepper flakes, to taste (or black pepper)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400ºF/205ºC.
In a large wide saucepan over a medium flame, heat the olive oil, then add the onion and salt. Cook until the onions are translucent and soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the Arborio rice, stirring to coat with the oil. Add the stock, spinach, asparagus, nutmeg, basil, lemon zest, hot pepper flakes and salt and stir to combine. Bring just to a simmer, then stir in half the cheese.
Transfer to a one-quart soufflé dish, smooth out the top of the mixture, then top with the remaining cheese. Cover and bake until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and is cooked through, between 30-40 minutes. You want it to be moist, but not soupy. Serve immediately with a bit more cheese for good measure.