There’s nothing I love more than a home-cooked meal at the end of the workday. But spending a lot of time in the kitchen isn’t exactly what you’re looking for after a long day. What to do then? Comfort food for cold weather without all the fuss. Can it be done? I say, yes! Risotto, for example, is one of my favourite comfort foods, but many people are put off the idea of making this for a weeknight meal, placing it firmly in the category of Too Time-Consuming.  All that stirring and the need to stand by the stove the entire time it cooks is off-putting. The good news is that this recipe, while not the risotto of a purist, will change your mind.

Risotto on a weeknight is made doable when it’s oven-baked. There are a few minutes’ prep at the start (even easier if you have pre-chopped squash on hand), but the bulk of the work is done in the oven, leaving you around 30 minutes to prepare a salad, or just relax before dinner is on the table. I’ve chosen chicken and mushrooms to go with the classic fall flavour of squash, though this is a very flexible recipe and lends itself to many different interpretations. Once you’ve oven-baked one risotto, you’ll be a convert.

Squash Risotto

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Serves: 6 

Ingredients
Roasted Squash
1/2 butternut or red kuri squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme or Herbes de Provence
1/8 tsp flaky sea salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Baked Risotto
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 clove garlic, minced
500 g boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
1-1/2cups white mushrooms, finely sliced
1-1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups warm chicken stock, more as needed
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only, stems discarded
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan
Fresh thyme leaves
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

Directions

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Roasted Squash:

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
2. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper and spread the squash pieces over the tray evenly. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with thyme or Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper and toss to combine.
3. Bake for 15 minutes, or until your risotto is ready to go in the oven, whatever’s fastest, until squash is just starting to get tender. The squash will go back in the oven alongside the risotto and will finish cooking at the same time.

Baked Risotto:
1. Heat oil in a large ovenproof dish or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until it’s just starting to get soft (remove from heat if garlic is browning).
2. Add chicken pieces and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until beginning to brown. Mix in rice and stir to combine until the rice is glossy and coated in oil.
3. Add wine and cook until evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes, then add stock and thyme. Stir well.
4. Bring mixture to the boil, then cover, remove from the heat and place in the oven. Bake risotto in same oven as tray of squash for 25 minutes.

Baked Risotto

Serving:
1. Remove risotto and tray of roasted squash from the oven. If the risotto is looking a little dry, add up to 1/2 cup of warm chicken stock (you may need less), stirring until it’s no longer dry. To the risotto, stir in the Parmesan and lemon zest, followed by half of the roasted squash, stirring carefully (so it doesn’t, well, get squashed!)
2. Serve the risotto immediately, topped with remaining roasted squash, salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves.

Keep the effortless Italian theme going and serve up this arugula and radicchio salad on the side.

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