Risotto of course is best known as a laborious stovetop dish, requiring up to an hour of constant stirring to achieve the perfect consistency of distinct, tender rice grains suspended in a creamy sauce. (There's not usually actual cream in risotto, unless it's dashed in at the end; the creaminess comes from the starch of the rice itself.) So can a much simpler, more hands-off baked risotto simulate this effect? Well, not exactly. You won't have that perfect, idealized texture, but you'll still have something very, very good. This dish has soft, tender grains of rice, thick and creamy and warm. It doesn't turn to mush, though — this is still not a half-bad risotto, however unorthodox its preparation may be. And it is much more convenient; you have to do some cooking before putting the dish in the oven, but then you're free to make caramelized onions, finish your salad, and set the table while it bakes. And yes, this version is fully vegan too. It's an especially great dish to make for a mixed dinner party of omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. It's so good on its own that the omnivores will never miss the meat.
But they and the vegetarians can spoon a little mascarpone or sour cream into their dishes for an extra hint of creaminess, while the vegans can use Tofutti's Better Than Cream Cheese. I have a lot of people in my life who need to eat dairy-free, and while I usually avoid dairy substitutes (especially soy ones), I appreciate that sometimes it's just really nice to have something creamy. And I personally love the Tofutti products, even though I'm not vegan! But neither of those additions are necessary — this dish is perfect winter comfort food all on its own.
Mushroom Risotto with Caramelized OnionsRelated: Recipe: Mushroom and Leek Risotto (Images: Faith Durand)
serves 4 to 61/2 ounce dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms, finely chopped 2 cups boiling water 1/3 cup olive oil, divided 4 yellow onions (about 2 pounds) 4 cloves garlic, finely minced 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced 1 large sprig fresh rosemary 1 cup Arborio or short-grain white rice 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc (make sure it's vegan!) 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 2 cups vegetable broth (see how to make your own) 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to garnish Heat the oven to 300°F. Rinse the dried mushrooms lightly, to remove any dust or grit. Place the mushrooms in a ceramic bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Set them aside to steep while you cook the onions. Chop one of the onions into a fine dice. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 3-quart (or larger) ovenproof pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until soft and golden. Push the onions to the side of the pot, and turn the heat up to medium-high. Add all the sliced cremini mushrooms and let them cook for 5 minutes without stirring. Flip the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes, or until they are quite brown and a crust is developing on the bottom of the pan. Drain the dried mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Add the mushrooms and rosemary sprig to the pan and sauté briefly, mixing with the onion and the rest of the mushrooms. Add the rice and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 4 minutes, or until the rice begins to turn transparent. Turn the heat to high and add the white wine, vinegar, broth, and reserved mushroom steeping liquid. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan as you add the liquid to deglaze any yummy mushroomy bits sticking to the pan. Stir in the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and put it in the oven to bake for 35 minutes. While the rice is baking, make the caramelized onions. Heat the remaining olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Cut the remaining three onions in half, and then slice them into thin half moons. Add them to the oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn a dark mahogany brown. Let them go as long as you can; I usually cook mine for at least 30 minutes. When the risotto has finished baking, let it stand uncovered for 5 minutes before serving. Dish it up and top each bowl with a spoonful of caramelized onions, a little extra pepper, and, if desired, a scoop of sour cream, whipped mascarpone, or whipped Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese. (Adapted from Not Your Mother's Casseroles, Harvard Common Press)