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I love the delicious silkiness of risotto, but sometimes lack the patience required for the constant stirring.
However, this torta with its easy-to-make risotto base remains soft, creamy and light, even after its hour or so in the oven. This is a wonderful recipe for the busy cook.
Italian-grown risotto rice has medium-short plump grains (which have the ability to absorb three to four times their own volume), infusing the rice with flavour from the liquid in which it is cooked.
When cooked, the risotto is a creamy, soupy sauce with separate grains.
To achieve this result you need to use the right type of rice, either arborio or carnaroli.
Long-grain varieties are not suitable and neither is the short-grained pudding rice.
The remaining ingredients are then folded into this risotto base and baked in the oven until risen, golden and fragrant.
Basil pesto's aromatic spiciness works well with the delicate creaminess of risotto and Parmesan's salty nuttiness enhances and enriches it all.
Serve for lunch or as a light evening meal with a seasonal salad.
Risotto, spinach and basil torta
3 Tbsp polenta or dry breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
200g (about 1 cup) arborio rice, unwashed
1½ cups chicken or vegetable stock, hot
1 cup dry white wine
6 large eggs, size 7, lightly beaten
1 cup standard milk
60g grated Parmesan cheese
60g grated tasty cheddar
⅓ cup basil pesto
½ cup sour cream (I use light)
250g frozen spinach, thawed
Oil a 22cm round spring-form tin and coat with polenta. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until soft.
Add the garlic, cayenne pepper and rice and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes until the rice is translucent and well coated with oil. Stir in the hot stock all at once, add the wine and bring to the boil stirring.
Reduce the heat to simmer, cover tightly with a lid and simmer very gently for 15 minutes.
Do not uncover or stir the rice during cooking. The risotto will be very moist. Set aside to cool.
You can speed up the cooling by standing the saucepan in a sink of cold water. If more convenient, the risotto base can be made ahead of time and chilled until required. Bring to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 180degC.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the beaten eggs, milk, grated Parmesan, grated tasty cheese, basil pesto and sour cream and mix well.
Place thawed spinach in a sieve and press down firmly to remove as much excess liquid as possible or squeeze it out with your hands. It is important to remove as much liquid as possible from the spinach otherwise the mixture will be too wet. Chop finely and stir into the milk and egg mixture.
Tip this into the risotto and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared tin and place it on a lipped oven tray in case of any leaks and bake for about one and a-quarter hours until puffed, golden and firm to the touch and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so. The torta will firm up and be easier to remove from the tin. Run a knife between the torta and the edge of the tin to loosen. Lift the torta out and slide on to a serving platter. Cut into slices with a serrated knife and serve.
I prefer to serve the torta warm or at room temperature, but it is also delicious hot.