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Baked Broccoli Risotto: Modern Comfort

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Baked Broccoli Risotto on www.virginiawillis.com

Somewhere along the way when women were “liberated” from the kitchen, processed and convenience foods became Standard Operating Procedure. One-pot casseroles became the go-to for many busy moms and families. An all-time favorite is Broccoli Rice Casserole. What’s not to love? Tender, creamy rice topped with cheese. Broccoli Rice Casserole is serious comfort food. What about easy modern comfort?

Baked Broccoli Risotto on www.virginiawillis.com

Good and Good for You

Most often old-fashioned Broccoli Rice Casserole is made with frozen broccoli and a familiar red-and-white can or two of cream of mushroom soup. The truth of the matter is that all too often those “shortcuts” are packed with salt and food additives. I’ve even seen recipes for Broccoli Rice Casserole with additional mayonnaise and cream cheese. The broccoli is an afterthought – a sad, soggy garnish.

My updated, upscale version, Baked Broccoli Risotto, is made with fresh, wholesome ingredients. Yes, it takes a little more time, but it’s pretty much a dump-and-stir that’s nearly all “hands-off” in the oven.

Baked Broccoli Risotto on www.virginiawillis.com

The Long and Short of It

Old-fashioned Broccoli Rice Casseroles are often made with long grain rice. My Baked Broccoli Risotto counts on the natural starch in the rice for creamy comfort. Varieties of rice are grouped as long, medium, or short grain according to their length and width. Long-grain rice is about four times as long as it is wide, medium grain is twice as long, and short grain is almost round. Long grain rice contains less starch and shorter grain rice contains more starch. Remember this by thinking about the letter S: The Shorter the grain means higher Starch content and the Stickier the rice will be. Short = Starchy and Sticky. (Having said all of that, if you have long grain on hand, use that. Or, give sushi rice a try. It’s flexible.)

Baked Broccoli Risotto on www.virginiawillis.com

Hands Off

Typically, risotto is made by adding heated liquid to the short grain rice, known as Arborio, a little at a time. This cooking technique activates the starch on the outside of the grain of rice, resulting in creamy risotto. Risotto is incredible when properly prepared, but frankly, it can be a bit tedious standing and slowly, constantly stirring a pot for 30 minutes.

In my recipe for Baked Broccoli Risotto, the risotto is baked, then stirred vigorously at the end of cooking to activate the starch and make the risotto creamy. The broccoli is folded in and the “casserole” is topped with a judicious amount of cheese. Here, I am using broccoli, and of course you could use asparagus, mushrooms, cooked chicken, or even seafood. Baked Risotto gives a whole new meaning to comfort food.

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy my Baked Broccoli Risotto! Let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit Y’all!

Virginia Willis

 Baked Broccoli Risotto on www.virginiawillis.com

Baked Broccoli Risotto

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups reduced fat low sodium or homemade chicken stock, divided
1 head broccoli
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the rice and 4 cups of the chicken stock in a heavy-duty Dutch oven. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente.

Meanwhile, prepare the broccoli about 10 minutes before the risotto is ready to come out of the oven. Cut the head into florets. Peel the stem and slice it in into “coins” about 1/4-inch thick. Place the prepared stems in a glass bowl and add 1/4-cup water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook in the microwave until just barely tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from the microwave and add the florets to the partially cooked stems. Cover again and cook in the microwave until the florets are bright green and the vegetables are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain, discarding the water. Set the broccoli aside.

After 45 minutes, remove the risotto from the oven, add the remaining cup of chicken stock, half of the Parmesan, wine, butter, salt, and pepper, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or a whisk until the rice is thick and creamy, about 2 minutes. Fold in the steamed broccoli. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese and return to the oven until melted, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 1 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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