Every time I’ve made this risotto, I’ve thought it was ridiculously good. It’s warming and creamy and comfy. I’ve been reluctant to share it, though, because it’s more than a little humble. It’s not restaurant risotto. There’s no “perfect bite” to the rice. There’s not a lot of variety in the texture. It’s definitely something you’d only eat at home—and that might be the best part of the whole thing.
I feared that this recipe might be too homey to recommend, but then I realized that the hominess is exactly what I love about it. The self-critical part of me said this isn’t blog-worthy: too-soft rice, peppers that aren’t crisp, imprecise cooking time, etc. I worried that anyone who tried this would think I didn’t know from good, true risotto. And then I got over myself.
There are definitely times when “homey” is not an entirely positive descriptor. Like when you slice into a chocolate cake that’s studded with a few balls of white flour. “Mmmm, it’s so…homey.” In other words, it’s amateur. Here, I mean “homey” in the best possible way. Like when your grilled cheese oozes out of bounds into the hot skillet and makes a halo of crunchy, barely burned cheddar. Or when the potatoes that were roasting under your chicken get stuck to the pan and you chisel them off to discover they are irresistibly crispy, salty, and fatty. You know dishes like these are imperfect. You’d never serve them to company, but you’d serve yourself right out of the pan. Repeatedly. That’s how I feel about this risotto.
It’s relaxing to eat, if that makes any sense. There’s no butter, cheese, or cream, but the arborio rice works its starchy magic in the oven to create the lusciousness that earns this dish the name risotto. It will not make you work to find pleasure. Over time, I’ve upped the amount of sausage to the point where there’s a piece (or two) in every bite. The experience of eating it is quite the opposite of being at a restaurant and digging through the grains to find the alleged pieces of lobster or shrimp or asparagus. Everything is in abundance: peppers, rice, meat. Ed and I serve ourselves abundantly, too. We usually eat this on the couch, watching a favorite show. During the first commercial break, we race to the kitchen and elbow each other out of the way for seconds. Then one of us complains that we didn’t leave any leftovers.
The risotto is relatively simple to prepare. The first important step is to use a sausage you really like. The second key is to be patient when browning. Let the sausage get good and browned. Don’t add the onions until the bottom of your pan is brown. Similarly, pause for browning after you add the tomato paste (but before you add the arborio; you don’t want to brown the rice). That flavor building will pay dividends later.
I prefer this with chipotle-flavored Tabasco. It’s good with regular Tabasco, too, but I’m a fool for the smokiness the chipotle adds to the dish. The amount of the hot sauce is up to you, but you’ll definitely want to add at least a little because, along with heat, it adds an appealing sweet tanginess.
And that rice that lost its fancy risotto-bite? It’s my favorite. Down deep, I don’t think I like the bite of real risotto. This unapologetically tender homemade version is just perfect.
oven baked sausage risotto
adapted loosely from Homemade, by Yvette Van Boven
Use your favorite sausage for this recipe; a good, strong flavor is more important than whether it’s pre-cooked or raw. My favorite these days is the pre-cooked hot italian sausage from Niman Ranch.
Add the hot sauce to your liking. I add at least a teaspoon, if not more, but go easy on it if you prefer less spice.
You’ll need an ovenproof skillet with a lid or an ovenproof skillet covered in tightly wrapped foil. If you have to engineer a lid (which I’ve done many times), make sure it’s fairly tight because you don’t want too much liquid to evaporate before the rice cooks.
Serves 3 to 4
1 tablespoon oil
12 oz hot italian sausage (sliced into coins or ovals if using pre-cooked sausage)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
Chopped leaves from 2 to 3 rosemary sprigs, divided
2/3 cup Arborio rice
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce to taste (as little as a few dashes, as much as 2 teaspoons)
1 red bell pepper, cubed
1 green bell pepper, cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the oil over medium / medium-high in a large, ovenproof skillet. If using raw sausage, remove it from the casings and crumble it into the hot pan. If using pre-cooked sausage, add the slices to the hot pan and spread them into an even layer. Let the sausage cook on one side until starting to brown. Flip or toss sausage to brown on other side.
Once there is a nice coating of brown in the pan, add onion and cook until it softens. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (30 seconds).
Add the tomato paste and all but 1 tsp of the rosemary. Stir around and allow to cook until very fragrant and the sausage and tomato form a coating of brown on the bottom of the pan.
Add rice and stir to incorporate. Cook for one minute.
Add wine, broth, Worcestershire, and hot sauce, stirring to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Taste the liquid for salt (I usually add 1/4 tsp to a 1/2 tsp here, but don’t overdo it–you can always add salt at the end before serving) and add a few grinds of pepper. Bring to a boil while stirring occasionally.
Add peppers, stir, tightly cover and place in oven.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from oven and stir. Taste for salt and pepper. Before serving, sprinkle with remaining rosemary.