The first time I had risotto was in a restaurant outside the Colosseum in Rome. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were backpacking around Europe after college. Rome was our last stop on our five week journey, and our funds were running low. Even though we didn’t speak any Italian, we quickly learned that items on the menu labeled “primi” were much cheaper and in a large enough portion that we were satisfied. (I now know that “primi” are technically first courses, so we were subsisting on appetizers. I can only imagine the “crazy Americans” comments our waiters were making.)

That first risotto ingrained itself in my food memory. Even now I can recall how the earthiness of the mushrooms went so perfectly with the Parmesan and how the creaminess of the rice was something I had never experienced before. I have made real risotto plenty of times since. But here’s the thing–lately I just don’t have time to devote to perfectly stirred risotto. It is a labor of love, with constant stirring, and takes at least an hour. When I’m faced with the choice of stirring risotto or getting my 3-year-old to the potty in time, you can imagine what I have to choose.

Awhile ago I was making oatmeal on the stove, and it occurred to me how it was sort of similar to making risotto. Except less stirring. And less time. So I got the idea to replace the rice in risotto with oats–they’re both grains right? My husband thought I had gone off the deep end when I told him my idea. He’s weathered some strange food attempts before (the peanut butter pasta incident of ’02 for example), so he humored me. Maybe this recipe is a little crazy, but I think it’s crazy like a fox. The result is a satisfying side dish that’s not too complicated, can take a little neglect, and gets dinner on the table in under 40 minutes.

Risoatmeal (inspired by Lidia Bastianich’s Risotto con Porcini and the instructions on the Quaker Oats package)

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan (plus extra for garnish)
  • salt & pepper
  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and thyme and saute for another 5 minutes. Season with salt & pepper.
  2. Add milk to the saucepan and bring to a boil (this takes about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.
  3. Add oats and cook until thick and creamy (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat when it is still a little looser than you’d like because it thickens as it cools.
  4. Stir in the butter and parmesan. Season with salt & pepper. Serve with some extra parmesan on top.
Serves: 4
Time: 35 minutes


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