I was always scared to attempt risotto, so it wasn't until culinary
school that I realized how easy they actually are. Time consuming, yes. Hard? Not at all. But then I discovered baked risotto and I've never looked back. This version with peas, asparagus, and pancetta is a personal favorite, and the epitome of spring!
I teach cooking classes, and one of the recipes that I demonstrate often is a classic Italian risotto. I love risotto because it is pure comfort food, and the pouring and stirring is all a testament of love. The thing is, most of my students really like the recipe but ask if it's really worth it after making it. I always say of course it is, but what I secretly want to tell them is that there is actually another way.
Discovering baked risotto was like discovering the holy grail, for me at least. And while I do think it's important to understand the basic stovetop technique, I will always keep this oven-baked version in my back pocket. And why wouldn't I? It's easily adaptable to the seasons, and it makes getting dinner on the table a breeze. It's a true one-pot wonder!
Even better, serving risotto at your next dinner party just got that much easier. Take this tip from restaurant chefs: par-bake the risotto the night before, then reheat it on the stovetop with a cup or two of additional chicken stock. Your guests will think you slaved all day, and only you will be the wiser. Don't worry, your secret's safe with me.
Baked Risotto with Peas, Asparagus & Pancetta
4 ounces finely chopped pancetta (See Recipe Notes)
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 large shallots (4 cloves), finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1/2 bunch pencil-thin asparagus stalks, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven 400°F.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon butter and shallots to the pancetta drippings and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the rice and sauté until every grain is coated with butter, about 1 minute.
Increase heat to high. Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid evaporates. Add stock and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the liquid is almost cooked out and the risotto is creamy, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place over moderate heat. Stir in peas and asparagus and cook until the vegetables are bright green and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, Parmesan, and lemon zest. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with additional Parmesan and reserved pancetta.
Vegetarian Version: This recipe can easily be made vegetarian. Sub in olive oil for the pancetta and use vegetable broth instead of chicken stock.
To make the risotto in advance, bake the risotto for 15 - 20 minutes. Cool and transfer to the refrigerator. When ready to serve, add 1 1/2 cups hot stock and vegetables and cook over medium heat until warm. Stir in the butter, Parmesan, and lemon zest. Season to taste.
Related: Farro Risotto with Corn and Tomatoes
(Images: Nealey Dozier)