Many of us make risottos, but how many of us throw convention to the wind and bake them? Until recently I had not, but as I already bake rice I just thought, what the heck. What’s the worst that could happen?
I know it is no big deal to ‘feed’ a risotto its stock and stir constantly (!), but how much easier to cover the grains in stock and just slam it in the oven? Much easier. In fact, put on a load of washing, vacuum the downstairs, unpack the dishwasher when you could be stirring rice, kind of easier. Or, if you are so inclined, to sit and watch The Big Bang Theory (my usual), uninterrupted by the task of constant stirring.
So, this method allows one to do yet more work, (or watch the telly). Point in its favour. But you may wonder about the consistency. As rightly you should. Isn’t risotto supposed to be a little al dente and quite wet? How does one control that from the comfort of one’s sofa? The short answer is one doesn’t. But if you choose the ‘right’ grains – the risotto rices or spelt – they do the work for you. Basmati rice ain’t going to cut it. I don’t want to oversell the concept of the oven-baked risotto. This risotto would not pass muster in a restaurant as a ‘proper’ risotto – or with an Italian – but for a wholesome, delicious and fuss-free meal, it is hard to top. It is also hugely adaptable – different stock, varying base flavours, a plethora of add-ins, which makes it good for using up other leftovers and bits in the fridge. Leftover shredded chicken would be great in this.
This baked risotto recipe may be just right for you as I have written it, but if it ends up a little dry for your liking, just pour in a little more stock and give it a stir. Or if you like it drier then cook it a little longer. Let your personal preference be your guide.
In this recipe, using Sharpham Park Pearled Spelt, I have opted for the uber-seasonal sunchoke – aka Jerusalem artichoke, a gorgeous chunk of (Scottish) Strathdon Blue and fresh young spinach. If sunchokes disagree with you – and they do me a bit – just swap them for butternut squash, or you could use the artichokes to flavour the dish (I adore the flavour) in large chunks and just pull them out for serving, adding in mushrooms or more spinach to round out the finished dish. Both sunchokes and squash are a bit sweet when cooked but the cheese and spinach balance the whole dish beautifully.
This is the end of my first week of Sharpham Park’s One-Month Spelt Challenge, and I am loving it. It has been pretty easy to replace my normal ‘evening’ grains with spelt. I don’t have grains every night, but tonight (I am writing this Thursday night) I am enriching a vegetable and leftover roast beef soup with some of the risotto grains. The soft and chewy grains will be perfect with the crunchier vegetables.
This weekend I am hoping to bake some bread. Not just any bread, but Chelsea buns! I won’t tell you exactly what I am going to do with them but if you have been reading me a while, you may just be able to guess where I will go with them. Hint: east. Btw, if you like the more traditional, sweet Chelsea buns, here is Great British Bake Off winner Frances Quinn’s recipe for Chelsea ‘Flour’ Show Bun Bouquet. It is very involved but looks well worth the effort.
Have you tried spelt? Do you ever throw caution to the wind and bake risotto? What is the secret to your risotto? Can you handle sunchokes??
Baked risotto feels like a bit of a cheat. After all, standing and stirring the grains into soft and chewy submission is part of the deal. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE traditional risotto. But if you have toddlers running around, chores to do, or a few hundred emails to read, babysitting a risotto isn’t always a good weekday meal option. This all-in-one method just might bring risotto into the realms of possibility.
I have gone very UK seasonal with this recipe, but do swap out the gorgeous Jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes for butternut squash (more gut friendly), mushrooms, asparagus or zucchini. You can make it even easier by using pre-chopped onions and leftover roasted vegetables. And vegans, I have umami-licious options for you too.
PS. I bet you can use your own tried and true risotto recipe using spelt for rice.
300g sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed and any ‘hairy bits’ removed (or a double scooped handful)
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
250g pearled spelt (I used Sharpham Park – fabulous stuff)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and minced
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg (leave out if using the squash and replace with a hit of dried or fresh sage)
75 ml (1/3 c) white wine
800ml (28 fl oz) hot vegetable stock (homemade or something like Marigold Swiss Vegetable Boullion)
2 large handsful of baby spinach leaves
50g (1/4 cup) quality blue cheese (I like Strathdon Blue – a Scottish blue) OR 1 beaped tbsp miso OR 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
Extra cheese to serve, optional
Sunchoke crisps, to serve (optional, see below)
Chop the sunchokes into bite-sized pieces and rub with ½ tablespoon of olive oil. Place on a baking tray and roast in a 180C/350F oven for 40 minutes. If using butternut squash roast for about 20 minutes. Both of these steps can be done a day or two in advance, although the ‘chokes will discolour (it doesn’t affect the taste).
While the ‘chokes are roasting, heat the remaining oil with the butter (or all oil) in a ovenproof lidded dish or pot (I use an old Le Crueset pot) and sauté the onion for about 5-6 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and nutmeg and sauté a few more minutes.
When the onions are translucent and have lost their raw smell, add the pearled spelt and stir well. Pour in the wine and let it fully absorb, then pour in all of the hot vegetable stock and bring back to the boil. When it boils, pop on the lid and place in the oven. Bring the sunchokes out of the oven.
Bake the risotto for 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and carefully stir in the artichokes, spinach and cheese. Replace the lid and bake for a further 10 minutes. If your oven is ‘fast’ the risotto may cook more quickly and need a stir in of extra stock. We like our risotto less wet than is probably traditional so adjust to your liking. If you like quite a ‘soupy’ risotto, use 1 litre of hot stock rather than 800ml.
Serve warm with extra cheese, some sunchoke crisps (see below), a few fresh spinach leaves and a side of fresh greens.
Jerusalem artichoke chips/crisps
Very thinly slice cleaned, blemish-free sunchokes and toss in a little oil – so they are barely coated. Place in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake at 200C/400F for between 15 and 25 minutes, rearranging during baking if some are faster than others. They will not be uniformly golden, and may be quite brown in patches, but the chips will taste delicious nonetheless. Beautiful accompaniment to game roasts, earthy soups and of course this risotto. Some people who are sensitive to the whole sunchoke are fine with them as a crisp!
FYI here is a good article from The Kitchn on spelt and how to use it, and here is one from them on the difference between spelt and farro. I must add that pearled spelt cooks more quickly than non-pearled (whole grain), and is perfect for risottos. It is full of filling protein and fibre too. It is not however suitable for anyone on a gluten-free diet. Nor does it have the same nutritional profile as whole grain spelt.