An unorthodox risotto to delight your taste buds.

Looking for something warm, rich and delicious for dinner tonight? Here’s a dish complete with thick creamy flavour. It’s baked, of course. A bed of dark rice and mushrooms topped with sweet caramelised onions and a flurry of pepper – this dish offers something delightfully satisfying.

Risotto is traditionally a laborious stovetop dish, requiring up to an hour of constant stirring in an effort to find the perfect consistency of distinct, tender rice grains suspended in a creamy sauce. As an aside, risotto doesn’t usually have actual cream in it. That creaminess comes from the starch of the rice.

The question then is one of compromise. Can a much simpler, more hands-off baked risotto simulate this effect? Well, not exactly. You won’t have that perfect texture, but you’ll still have something very, very good. While the dish is soft and thick, it doesn’t lose its form – not a half bad risotto, despite its unorthodox preparation. And it is much more convenient. Sure, you’ve got some cooking to do before putting the dish in the oven, but once it’s in, you’re free to give your caramelised onions and salad some love. And let’s not forget the table setting.

This particular version is fully vegan, something that makes it an especially great dinner party dish. And it’s genuinely so tasty that the more carnivorous among us won’t miss the meat.

So here we go, the recipe for a particularly delightful mushroom risotto with caramelised onions.

  • 30g dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 onions
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 230g cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup Arborio or short-grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (see how to make your own)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to garnish

Heat the oven to 150°C. Rinse the dried mushrooms and place them in a ceramic bowl. Pour the boiling water over them and set aside to steep (soak) while you cook the onions.

Dice one of the onions. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a cast iron pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, or until soft and golden. Push the onions to the side of the pot, and turn the heat up to medium-high. Add all the sliced cremini mushrooms and let them cook for 5 minutes without stirring. Flip the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes, or until they are quite brown and a crust is developing on the bottom of the pan.

Drain the dried mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Add the mushrooms and rosemary sprig to the pan and sauté briefly, mixing with the onion and the rest of the mushrooms. Add the rice and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 4 minutes, or until the rice begins to turn transparent.

Turn the heat to high and add the white wine, vinegar, broth, and reserved mushroom steeping liquid. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan as you add the liquid to deglaze any yummy mushroomy bits sticking to the pan. Stir in the salt and pepper.

Bring to boil. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and put it in the oven to bake for 35 minutes.

While the rice is baking, make the caramelised onions. Heat the remaining olive oil in a pan. Slice the remaining onions into thin half-moons. Add them to the oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn a dark brown. Let them go as long as you can (30 minutes).

When the risotto has finished baking, let it stand uncovered for 5 minutes before serving. Dish it up and top each bowl with a spoonful of caramelised onions and a little extra pepper. Voila.