I have a risotto conflict. I love the traditional dish — made with arborio, carnaroli or another short-grain white rice that swells up and combines with the cheese and butter to get so wonderfully creamy. But like so many other health-conscious cooks, I’m also trying to favor whole grains whenever possible. So I’ve broken with tradition and made risotto — or should I call it “risotto”? — with barley, farro and more.
What I haven’t done, perhaps surprisingly, is kept the “ris” but used a whole-grain one: brown rice.
That is, until now. And I can tell you, it’s a good idea. As instructed by Sarah Britton in her new cookbook, “Naturally Nourished,” I chose short-grain brown rice for its extra starch, which she assured could give some (if perhaps not quite all) of that creaminess. I threw in a rind of pecorino Romano cheese, which Britton promised would reduce the need for much, if any, cheese to be added at the end. She was right on both counts.
Besides broth, salt and the requisite aromatic vegetables, the only other ingredients are butternut squash and a good dose of sage leaves. And there’s no reason you couldn’t use any seasonal combination of vegetable and herb you desire: mushrooms and thyme, say, or eggplant and oregano.
In another break with tradition, Britton has you bake the risotto rather than cook it on the stove top, saving you the stirring — although that requirement of risotto-making has always been exaggerated. The tradeoff: She suggests you open the oven a few times, uncover the pot and check the liquid level, adding more broth if needed, which prevents this from being a walk-away-for-an-hour affair. But guess what? When I tested it, no extra liquid was required at any of those checks. I’m not sure if I got lucky or what, but the next time, I’m going to leave it alone and see what happens.
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6 to 8 servings (makes about 10 cups)
Make Ahead: If you can, soak the short-grain brown rice in water overnight, which will make the risotto cook more quickly. The risotto can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months; you’ll want to add a little more broth when you reheat it, to return it to a loose consistency.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (may substitute coconut oil or ghee), plus more for serving
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced (about 3 cups)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
5 to 7 cups homemade or store-bought no-salt-added vegetable broth (see related recipe at washingtonpost.com/recipes)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 1/2 cups short-grain brown rice, soaked overnight if possible (see headnote)
1 rind pecorino Romano cheese (optional), plus more cheese for serving (optional)
Heat the oil in a large, ovenproof pot fitted with a lid over medium heat. Add the onions and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes, adding a little broth if the pot becomes too dry. Stir in the garlic and sage and cook until fragrant, 2 minutes.
Add the squash, rice, 5 cups of the broth and the cheese rind, if using. Stir well, cover, transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven, stir once and check the liquid levels. If the broth is not still covering the rice, add 1 cup or so of broth, then cover and return the pot to the oven to continue baking. Check every 15 minutes or so until the rice is tender and the risotto is creamy and loose but not runny. If it seems too stiff, stir in a little broth to loosen slightly. The risotto should cook for about 60 minutes total if your rice has been soaked, up to 90 minutes if you start with dried rice. Taste, and add more salt, as needed.
Serve hot, with a drizzle of oil and extra pecorino Romano grated over the top, if desired.
NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS | Per serving (based on 8): 320 calories, 5 g protein, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 69 g carbohydrates, 290 mg sodium, 7g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar
Adapted from “Naturally Nourished,” by Sarah Britton (Clarkson Potter, 2017).
Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to email@example.com
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