This tasty risotto cake is Italy’s best kept secret
I am proud to say that I have eaten a lot of Italian food in my day. Growing up in New Jersey, if we ever went out to eat, it was probably Italian. It’s a rich, expansive cuisine that’s full of beloved classics (I love a towering eggplant Parmigiana), but our commitment to those classics can prevent us from discovering lesser-known pleasures Waiting in the wings. Take, for example, the sartù di riso. Maybe your family has been making it for generations, or maybe you discovered it when you were years old today, but this tasty risotto cake needs you to make it, eat it, and spread the word.
Sartù di riso is a gorgeous risotto cake, filled with a delicious filling (usually meat and sauce), and sealed with more risotto. I discovered this dish while flipping through an imported Italian cooking magazine. (No, I don’t read Italian yet, but pictures help.) Looking for recipes online, I finally decided to use this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis as a guide. She makes everything from scratch, including the pasta sauce, and probably grew the peas herself. I didnot do that.
A big part of what I love about this dish is that there is so much room for modification. In addition to making the risotto, you can decide how “homemade” you want yours to be. Yyou can make the sauce and meatballs, or you could just buy them. You can cut the recipe to make two portions, and build it in a small loaf pan, or you can triple the recipe to fill a 12-cup bundt bread to the brim. Make the filling vegetarian, or go with a brown or red sauce. You can do this in any baking dish, but I find the structure of the baking sheet gives it more support.
I decided to make the semi-homemade version of this dish, and even then it was a bit of a chore. I love that sort of thing, so I was happy to worry about the risotto, but if you’re planning your week, you can spread out the work and do the risotto, meatballs and tomato sauce ahead of time, then assemble that the next day.
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Make the risotto with the method you prefer. I followed the directions on the back of my risotto rice container which called for a cup and a half of rice and it made about six servings. Once the risotto is done, let it cool while you prepare the other ingredients. I decided to keep it simple and bought pre-made meatballs, fresh mozzarella, and a jar of bolognese sauce. I finally used a cup of sauce to cover 11 meatballs and three ounces of cheese (torn into small pieces). You can branch out to use what is available to you. Try ground sausage, cubed ham, shredded chicken, or sautéed vegetables to fill your sartù di riso. I suggest keeping the sauce light, just enough to cover the other ingredients. If you add too much, you will put a lot of water into the cake and it will take longer to bake, or it will just get soggy.
Preheat the oven and prepare your skillet. Use what you have available, but grab a frying pan if you have one. I prefer it because it looks nice when you turn it off, and you can make it as shallow or as deep as needed, depending on the amount of ingredients you have available. If you don’t have a packet, use a cake pan or loaf pan. Thoroughly and generously butter the pan and place on a baking sheet. Do not replace the oil. The butter will stick to the sides of the baking dish; the oil will collect on the bottom. Coat the butter with breadcrumbs and tap off the excess. This crumbly, buttery coating will toast in the oven and provide a subtle crunch, attractive color, and help indicate doneness.
Using a spoon that fits well into the pan, spoon slightly warm risotto into the bottom of the pan until half of the risotto is used. Press down firmly on the risotto so that it hugs. bottom and sides or pan, until forming a small valley for filling. As you press, it’s important to commit to the movement and avoid pushing the risotto into different areas. The idea is to keep the breadcrumbs where they are against the pan so the cake doesn’t stick together later. Fill the valley with the filling of your choice. Try to keep it within the limits of the rice.
Carefully cover the filling with the other half of the risotto. I first used small tablespoons to spoon the rice evenly around the pan before using the back of my spoon to pack the risotto and connect the pieces. Your goal is to connect the sides of the first serving of rice to the top, so you have an even layer of risotto surrounding the filling. Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of breadcrumbs on top and sprinkle with small bits of butter before popping it all in the oven for about an hour. You’ll notice the edges start to brown and you’ll hear a slight fizz, but you shouldn’t see any liquid bubbling out of the top.
Let the sartù di riso cool on a wire rack for 10-20 minutes. Line the cake pan with a serving plate wide enough to cover the entire pan (I used a cutting board) and turn the cake upside down on the plate. The cake should fall off easily. If not, I send you good vibes. (You may have let it cool too long, but that would take quite a while. a while, and will probably require a refrigerator.) Try returning it to a warm oven for five minutes to loosen the butter and put it out again. At worst, you just dig into the plate with a spoon. It will still make your eyes roll in pleasure.. Wrap leftovers and store in the fridge for up to five days.
Simple Rice Sartu
- 6 cups of cooked risotto
- 10-12 meatballs
- 1 cup bolognese sauce
- ⅓ cup cubed fresh mozzarella
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs (I used one with dried herbs)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, generously butter the inside of a pan. Mix the breadcrumbs in to coat the butter so you have an unbroken coating of crumbs.. Pour excess crumbs into a small bowl and set aside. Combine bolognese sauce, cheese, and meatballs in a bowl to cover.
Use a small spoon to spread half of the risotto around the bottom of the baking pan. Press the rice into the bottom and up the sides of the baking dish to create a valley for the filling. add the fillingkeeping within the walls of the risotto valley as much as you can. Pour the remaining risotto over the top of the filling, attaching it to the rice walls of the first delivery. Press and smooth this top layer so that it is even and firmly connected. Sprinkle the remaining small bowl of breadcrumbs on top and dot with a few small pieces of butter.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. The edges will start to brown, but there shouldn’t be any bubbling liquid on top. Allow the cake to cool for about 10-20 minutes and invert onto a serving plate. Serve sliced with a garnish of sauce.