Ina Garten's Favorite Way To Cook Risotto Isn't On The Stovetop

Risotto isn't typically considered a dish to prepare on a busy weeknight. It's not that it's time-consuming to cook, as our basic risotto recipe is ready in under an hour. The real challenge is that risotto demands constant attention, making it difficult to manage on a hectic Monday evening. However, that changed when Ina Garten revised the classic recipe.

This labor-intensive Italian dish is traditionally prepared in several stages: sauteing aromatics like onions and garlic, toasting the rice, gradually adding ladles of hot stock while continuously stirring until it reaches al dente, and finally, finishing the dish, sometimes with added ingredients like grated parmesan. In Garten's version, found in her cookbook "Go To Dinners: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," she starts on the stove like Nonna would, sauteing minced shallots in a Dutch oven. She toasts Arborio rice in high-quality olive oil, but then deviates from tradition.

Rather than slowly mixing in the hot liquid, Garten adds all the stock at once. After bringing it to a simmer, she covers it and transfers the Dutch oven to the oven to finish cooking. We might be skeptical if anyone else altered this classic dish, but when it comes to the Contessa, you just know it's going to work.

Tips for making oven risotto

Ina Garten has been making oven risotto for at least 10 years, showcasing the dish in several cookbooks — she even uses seasonal ingredients, like butternut squash in the fall. The lush texture of risotto comes from stirring the grain to release its starches. In Garten's method, she achieves this creaminess after the risotto is baked by vigorously mixing in additional stock, butter, and cheese into the rice. Within a few minutes, as opposed to 30 (apologies to Nonna), she manages to coax out the rice's starches.

To successfully replicate the traditional dish with Garten's technique, starting with the correct type of rice is crucial. There are many types of rice, each with distinct attributes that render them suitable for specific dishes. Carnaroli and Arborio are two short-grain rices that are high in starch, yielding the creamy consistency expected in a risotto. While Arborio is more readily available, both varieties are firm, and maintain their structure during stirring.

Whether you're making risotto in the oven or on the stove, it's essential to start with simmering stock before incorporating it into the pot. Introducing cold stock to hot rice can lower the overall temperature, leading to uneven cooking. Either warm the stock in a saucepan on the stove, or heat it in the microwave. And if you're wondering whether you can use your slow cooker to make risotto, the answer is yes.

Quick ways to flavor risotto

Risotto is a versatile dish that can be served as a first course (like pasta), an entree, or a side dish. Modifying the recipe with various spices, liquids, produce, and proteins easily transforms this comfort meal. Opt for water or vegetable stock for a lighter dish, or use bone broth, chicken, seafood, or beef stock for a richer grain.

In spring, take advantage of the season's early produce by adding fresh peas, leeks, fennel, and asparagus to create a vibrant, green vegetable-laden risotto. Toward summer's end, when there's an abundance of fresh produce, try our ratatouille risotto recipe, teeming with bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and fresh herbs. For a heartier dish when produce is not at its peak, turn to your pantry to elevate the dish. Before serving, mix in jarred pesto — either basil or tomato — and garnish with freshly grated parmesan or another cheese, like cubed mozzarella.

When making risotto, consider more than just tonight's meal. The opportunity to make risotto cakes is a perfect reason to double the batch. Store leftovers in the fridge for two days, and reheat risotto in the microwave or on the stovetop, adding more liquid to loosen the grains. Since it won't taste as good as when first made, transform it into something new. Mix the leftovers with a beaten egg and breadcrumbs, form into patties, and pan-fry until golden brown.