Usually comfort food brings about nostalgia for childhood or a specific time in our lives. It brings forth the memories, the sense of warmth, the feeling that your family and friends are right there.
And yet, some of my favorite comfort foods are more recent additions to my diet: baked macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, risotto… I suppose the risotto shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering I often enjoyed Rice a Roni when in college, and even now, when I’m sick, I generally want rice that’s been cooked in chicken stock.
The first time I made mushroom risotto, it was love at first bite (that sounds so corny, but it’s the truth). It’s the dish I turn to when I simply want my food to comfort me. Unfortunately, I don’t always feel like standing in front of the stove and stirring.
Recently, oven-baked risotto recipes have been popping up everywhere, though the concept wasn’t new. Most of these recipes have you stir in the cooked vegetables at the end. That wasn’t good enough for me, though, because what makes my mushroom risotto so delicious (to me) is that the mushroom flavor thoroughly permeates the rice, and the creamy risotto is reminiscent of rice bathed in cream of mushroom soup.
So I set about finding my own path to oven risotto nirvana. The first attempt was overcooked with not enough depth of flavor (I had to use purchased stock…homemade really does make a big difference), but the second was near perfection; not quite the same as stirred risotto, but when you’re tired or busy, it’s close enough.
Oven-Baked Mushroom Risotto
16 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, mushrooms halved
8 ounces white or brown mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 shallots, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup dry white wine
5 cups simmering chicken stock, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup grated parmesan
1-2 tablespoons softened butter
shredded parmesan, for garnish (if desired)
Preheat oven to 400*F with rack in bottom third of oven.
Heat a large oven-proof skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil and butter; when foam subsides, add the mushrooms and cook until they release their juices. Add shallots and cook until soft. Add rice, stir to evenly coat with fat, and cook until the edges are translucent and the centers are opaque. Add wine and bay leaf, stir until wine is absorbed. Add 4 cups of chicken stock, add salt and pepper to taste.
Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Cover and transfer the pot to the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and stir (if your name is Sara, you will keep repeating to yourself that the pot just came out of the oven and you need to use potholders). Add the butter and stir, add as much stock as needed to bring a creamy consistency (or a little more soupy, if that’s your preference). Stir in the grated parmesan.
Serve, garnishing with additional cheese if desired.