I smelled like a fajita combo.
There I was, standing amongst 15 other parents waiting for our kids outside the classroom. Everything was fine at first. In fact, I was initially worried about my black eye from the day before (a radio fell on my face while trying to grab it out of the closet!). I was pretty sure people would be staring at my pathetic cover-up job. But then there was this smell… a distinctive fajita smell. Was it me?
Earlier that morning I was prepping onions for this risotto. Chop. Sauté. Repeat. The scent wafted into my new polka dot puffy vest and stayed there. I was ripe.
It reminds me of the time, years ago, when my grandpa made his favorite recession specialty: tripe. Call me picky but I’ve never been a fan of cow stomach. He would simmer it in tomato sauce and taunt anyone who walked by with a wooden spoonful. He couldn’t fool us. We knew it wasn’t meat sauce! Tripe is so funky is smells exactly how you’d imagine... Anyway, I took on the stench of this edible offal and at school the next day my jacket smelled rank. Like, seriously rank.
No wonder I sat alone on the bus…
Traditional risotto with all the stirring (and sweating) is too hectic for me on weeknights. This baked version is easy and mostly hands-off.
To begin, sauté one yellow onion with thyme and aborio rice. Add a splash of white wine and chicken stock- I used homemade stock leftover from this recipe. I also threw in a handful of dried porcini mushrooms for flavor. You can usually find them in little packets at the grocery store or at Italian delis. They must be reconstituted in hot water first. Bring to a quick boil and then bake for about 45 minutes.
Oyster, shiitake, and cremini mushrooms are sauteed until golden and used to top each portion of risotto. What makes it special is the addition of brandy used to deglaze the pan. When I buy the wine, I pick up one of those mini bottles of brandy they usually have behind the counter. This way you don’t have to commit to a big one.
There is nothing remotely fajita-like about this dish.
It’s the aromatic smell of onions, thyme, and earthy mushrooms that elevate the senses. Baked risotto is a convenient alternative to its traditional counterpart yielding a creamy, comforting meal without the hassle. Plus, it’s very healthful considering there is minimal butter and no cream.
You just might want to change your clothes before leaving the house. Olé!
- Wild mushrooms can get pricey. Check out your local store for variety packs, which will usually include 2-3 different types. That’s what I buy and it saves me a couple of bucks.
- The best way to store mushrooms is in a brown paper bag. If they are packaged in plastic, they tend to spoil at a faster rate.
- When deglazing with alcohol, first turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove. Then add the brandy. This will prevent the alcohol from flaming up. Be careful!
- 1 small handful of dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped
- 1½ c. aborio rice
- ⅓ c. dry white wine
- 5 c. chicken stock, divided + more to taste
- ½ c. grated parmesan cheese
- salt + pepper
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1tsp. olive oil
- 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 4 oz. wild mushrooms- shiitake, oyster or a mix, thinly sliced
- 1–2 tbsp. of brandy
- parmesan cheese
- thyme sprigs
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Place the porcini mushrooms into a small bowl. Add just enough hot water to cover, about 1/2 c. Soak for 10-15 minutes to reconstitute. Strain the mushrooms to remove any sand and reserve the liquid.
- In a large Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over low heat.
- Add the onion and thyme leaves. Saute until soft but not colored, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the rice and stir thoroughly.
- Pour in the wine and reserved porcini liquid. Cook until the most of the moisture has evaporated.
- Add 4½ cups of chicken stock.
- Cover and place into the center of the oven. Bake for 45 minutes.
- Remove the risotto from the oven. Add the remaining ½ cup of chicken stock, parmesan cheese, and stir frequently for about 1-2 minutes. The texture should be oozy, not stiff. Add extra stock if necessary. Season with salt and pepper.
- For the topping, warm the butter and olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the mushrooms in batches until golden (overcrowding the pan will cause them to steam and get watery). To deglaze, turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove. Then add the brandy. This will prevent the alcohol from catching flame. Return the pan back to the stove and continue to cook, with the mushrooms, until the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To serve, portion the risotto into bowls. Top with mushrooms, thyme sprigs and extra parmesan on the side.