Often, people believe making risotto is a chore. But I find it is not much more work than making a pasta dinner with a vegetable sauce or with shellfish. It takes about the same time and you must pay attention to what you are cooking. Regardless of your perspective, risotto is a meal worth having in your dinner repertoire. This recipe is inspired by Spring, using seasonal produce with the bright zing of lemon and mint. Leek asparagus risotto with sugar snap peas is pure comfort food. It is a blend of rice made creamy from stock and stirring, with a bounty of spring vegetables separately cooked to retain their crisp bite and shape.
What is great about risotto, once you have the basic recipe down, the possibilities are endless. Anything goes. It is a great way to use up odds and end vegetables or leftover fish, chicken and cured pork. Any vegetable pairs nicely with the creamy rice. I like to add a lot of vegetables because I feel it is healthier for me. But many recipes include only just a cup of peas or no vegetables at all, like Risotto alla Milanese, which is the risotto that put risotto on the map. It is only made with the rice, stock, Parmigiano-Reggiano, butter, and saffron.
When I make risotto, I have my music playing in the background or I have the pleasure of a friend sharing relaxed conversation with a glass of wine. It is also a time for meditation, especially if it has been one of those days and you need some quite time. Whatever the mood, you should never feel rushed or stressed when making risotto, you will just end up making mediocre risotto. This just can’t be rushed and defeats the purpose of making a comforting meal.
Variations for Leek Asparagus Risotto
If you want to give leek asparagus risotto an upgrade either for a fancy dinner or for a romantic dinner for two, add some seared sea scallops on top of the plated risotto. If you do not know how to sear sea scallops, click on this link for Dinner Salad with Sea Scallops and Greens for instructions. Brown some butter after searing the sea scallops and drizzle it over the scallops and leek asparagus risotto with a squeeze of lemon. It is a great dinner for a couple to make together. Each person has a job. One can stir the risotto, the other can keep you company and sear the scallops and brown the butter at the last minute.
The dinner salad is a great alternative to risotto when the weather gets hot and humid and you don’t want to stand over a hot stove.
Read more tips on making risotto here.
Leek Asparagus Risotto
A springtime risotto made with leeks, asparagus and sugar snap peas. For a romantic dinner for two, add some seared sea scallops.
When I use a store-bought stock, I like to enhance it by adding fresh vegetable trimmings and simmer for several minutes. This adds some time to your prep, but it does add more flavor to the stock. If you are pressed for time omit this step and save 15 minutes but remember to heat up the stock before adding it to the risotto.
I prepare the asparagus and sugar snap peas separately. This helps the vegetables retain their shape and color. I like the vegetables on the crisp side which is a nice contrast to the smooth and creamy rice.
Leek Asparagus Risotto
- 6 cups (1.5 L) vegetable or chicken stock homemade or low salt store bought stock
- 1 lb (414 g) asparagus
- 1 leeks cleaned and sliced
- 4 oz (119 g) sugar snap peas a heaping cup
- 4 TBS (57 g) butter divided
- 1½ cup (300 g) carnaroli or arborio rice
- ½ cup (150 ml) dry white wine
- ½ tsp Kosher Salt (more to taste)
- ½ cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- finely grated zest from one lemon
- garnish with mint and parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preparing the stock and vegetables
Clean and remove the dark leaves off the leek. To clean leek, cut off the root end and slice down the middle of the leek lengthwise but not all the way through. Open the leek like a book and run it under cold running water. Peel back the layers looking for the hidden dirt and rinse off. The dirt likes to hide between the layers of the leek almost all the way through to the center. Dry off the leeks as best you can.
Trim off the dark green layers of the leek and reserve for the stock, then slice in half all the way through lengthwise. Slice the leek in half moon slices about a 1/8 inch (.5 cm) thick and set aside.
Pour the stock into a 3-quart sauce pan and turn the heat to medium-high. Trim off the ends of the asparagus and add the ends to the stock. Add the cleaned dark green parts of your leek. Add a small handful of sugar snap peas to the stock.
Bring the stock to a simmer. Simmer the stock with the vegetables for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the vegetables with a spider or slotted spoon. Discard the vegetables. Return the stock to the burner set to low heat and keep warm.
Fill a sauce pan with salted water and bring to a boil.
While the water is coming to a boil, trim the asparagus into one-inch (2.5 cm) pieces cut on a diagonal. Start by trimming off the top tip just where it begins to get smooth, then work your way down the stalk.
Remove the string from the side of the sugar snap peas and trim each end if needed. Also, while the water is coming to a boil, make a water bath by adding cold water and ice cubes to a medium bowl.
Once the water comes to a boil, add a pinch of Kosher salt then add the trimmed asparagus. Quickly blanch for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spider to remove the asparagus from the boiling water then add to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. Keep the water on and boiling. When the asparagus is cooled remove them from the ice bath and dry on a clean lint free kitchen towel. Set aside. Add more ice to the ice bath for the sugar snap peas.
In the same pot of boiling water, quickly blanch the sugar snap peas for one minute. Remove the sugar snap peas from the boiling water and add to an ice bath. Once cool, drain and dry the sugar snap peas. Cut the sugar snap peas in quarter inch slices on a sharp diagonal. Set aside.
Making the risotto
In a Dutch oven or other 5-qt pot, add 2 TB of butter over medium heat. Once the butter stops sizzling add the leeks and cook until the leeks become translucent and tender, but not browned, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the carnaroli rice and stir to coat. Cook the rice until they become opaque about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the white wine and stir until the wine completely evaporates.
Add about a 1/2 cup (150 ml) of warm stock and stir the rice until it has absorbed the stock. Add the Kosher salt and continue to add warm stock in 1/2 cup (150 ml) intervals, stirring the rice and waiting until the stock is all absorbed until you add more. Continue adding stock and stirring until the risotto is al dente, about 20-30 minutes. After 15 minutes of cooking, taste the rice to gauge your progress. The rice should be tender but still firm. You might not use up all the stock.
Towards the end, add the asparagus and sliced sugar snap peas to warm up. Add the remaining butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with a 1/2 cup of stock. Stir to mix and melt the cheese.
Loosen up the risotto with some warm stock and stir if it needs it.
Spoon a serving into a shallow bowl or plate, and garnish with lemon zest, parsley and mint.
Serve immediately with more cheese and fresh black pepper.
Depending on how salty your stock is, will determine how much Kosher salt you need to add. I always use low salt or homemade stock, which gives me some flexibility for seasoning my food. Taste first and season with salt as needed.
For a really special treat, sear sea scallops separately and serve 3-5 scallops person. Arrange the sea scallops on top of the risotto in individual serving dishes. Brown some butter and drizzle over the sea scallops on the risotto. Garnish with herbs and lemon zest.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
The first time I saw my husband drowning his rice with soy sauce, I knew I needed to find a way to change this habit. No matter what we were eating if there was white or brown rice, the soy sauce came out of the refrigerator and set at the table. The irony is, he did not pour soy sauce on his rice when we ate Chinese food. For some reason, rice bathed in soy sauce really bothered me, especially when our sons followed his example. To me it was like adding a tablespoon of table salt to the already seasoned rice. All you would taste is the soy sauce and not the rice. Basmati or jasmine rice have such a clean flavor and is a lovely compliment for the main entrée at its side. It is a shame to disguise the clean flavor of this comforting grain.
From that moment, I changed the way I cook rice. Unless I am serving rice with a stew or a saucy entrée, I usually cook rice in vegetable or chicken stock and add some sautéed mushrooms and green peas. The mushrooms add subtle flavor and usually compliments the other parts of the meal. Even those perks can get mundane if it is a regular item with dinner. It is time to switch things up.
Recently, I discovered Patricia Wells’ recipe, Crunchy Jasmine Rice from Master Recipes, and I had to try it. Often, I garnish rice with pistachios or almonds and fresh herbs, but it never occurred to me to cook rice with nuts or seeds because I thought they would get soggy. Surprisingly, the peanuts kept their crunch after cooking with the rice. This recipe is brilliant in its’ simplicity and has an addictive nutty flavor. Besides the great taste, one of the best features of this jasmine rice is once the water boils, the rice cooks in 10 minutes. At first, I did not believe it, but it is true the rice cooks in 10 minutes. The rice wasn’t hard, mushy or chalky, just sweet grains of jasmine rice with the peanuts and seeds cooked to perfection.
The only change I made was to add fresh minced herbs like parsley and celery leaves. The fresh herb flavor gives an extra punch of sunshine to the nutty rice. The next time I make it I want to add some golden raisins soaked in red wine vinegar. The sweetness from the raisins and a touch of acid will really liven up this side dish.
Crunchy jasmine rice is a wonderful side dish with just about anything like grilled meats, roasts, chicken and fish. If you are allergic to peanuts substitute them with cashews, walnuts or hulled pumpkin seeds. Serve crunchy rice immediately or turn it into a rice salad with raisins, chopped vegetables and a light vinaigrette. Dress the rice salad right before you want to serve it.
Serve Crunchy Jasmine Rice With:
How to Make a Vegan Entrée with Crunchy Jasmine Rice
Most plant foods do not have all twelve of the essential amino acids, commonly known as the proteins. Vegetarian and vegan diets benefit from food combining. Honestly, all diets benefit from food combining. When eaten separately, legumes and grains come up short providing all 12 of the essential amino acids. When combined in one meal they compliment each other nutritiously and as well as flavor. What grains lack in essential proteins, legumes have. Jasmine rice mixed with peanuts and seeds become a foundation for a complete vegetarian meal.
I like to mix additional legumes like lentils with crunchy jasmine rice for a vegetarian or vegan main entrée. I add about 1 – 2 cups (250 – 500 ml) of cooked Du Puy, or Pardina lentils, to the bowl of crunchy jasmine rice. Then, I make a rice bowl with the rice and lentil mix and add some fresh and roasted vegetables. Top it off with some tahini dressing. Tahini dressing happens to be one of my favorite dressing and accentuates the nutty flavor of the rice.
Quick and Crunchy Jasmine Rice
- ½ cup 125 ml / 60 g roasted and salted peanuts
- 1 ½ cups 375 ml / 250 g jasmine rice
- ½ cup 125 ml / 70 g mixed sesame seeds, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 2 cups 500 ml water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
- ½ cup chopped parsley and celery leaves
Coarsely chop the peanuts and place them in a 3-quart sauce pan.
Add the remaining ingredients and turn the heat on the stove to high. Bring the rice mixture to a boil, then cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Simmer until the rice is cooked al dente, about 10 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf and add the cooked rice to a large mixing bowl. Fluff the rice with a fork and add the parsley and celery leaves.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I love it when everything just falls into place without extra planning or trips to the store. When a spontaneous idea and a refrigerator packed with leftover food from the holidays fit together perfectly like pieces in a puzzle. Today, as I stared into the obis of my stuffed refrigerator an idea for tonight’s dinner just fell into place. As my eyes traveled from the stacks of containers filled with rice to the other remains of our holiday meal it dawned on me, I could make fried rice. I have plenty of rice and salmon, now all I need is cabbage.
Searching through the maze of leftovers was like looking for a misplaced set of keys. “I know it’s in here somewhere”. That one missing thing which is usually right in front of your nose but, you can’t find it anywhere. Fortunately, without emptying my whole refrigerator I found what I was looking for staring right back at me, was a container full of roasted Brussels sprouts. Ah ha, Brussels sprouts are members of the cabbage family, right? Yes. Whoop whoop, no need to run to the store, I’ve got everything I need all in one place. A dinner of fried rice solves four problems at the same time: use up some of the rice, use up some of the Christmas Eve dinner leftovers, clear out space in my refrigerator, and make tonight’s dinner. Fried rice made with poached salmon and roasted Brussels sprouts for the win.
This recipe is lightly based on an old recipe in Silver Palette New Basics Cookbook, Fried Rice with Shrimp. I used it as a foundation along with one in Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee. My recipe builds on the concept of making a substantial meal from ingredients that by themselves are too small. One 8-ounce piece of salmon isn’t big enough to feed a family. However, when you combine it with ingredients like rice and vegetables, it makes a full meal with plenty to go around. My family loves fried rice and always orders it when we eat out for Chinese food. Why not make it at home and use up some of the leftovers? It is too good to save for takeout.
I made fried rice with salmon because that is what I have, but if you have tons of turkey, ham, pork, chicken, or goose from Christmas dinner you can’t go wrong mixing any of those foods with fried rice. You can also switch up the vegetables. Instead of cabbage or Brussels sprouts use, broccoli, asparagus, peas, sugar snap peas, kale, green beans, or Swiss chard. You can make it with prepared food, or entirely from scratch. Heat up, or cook each ingredient separately in a wok or skillet, then toss everything together with a soy sauce and sherry seasoning.
A nice garnish with the salmon fried rice is removing the skin off the salmon and frying it. You get very crispy salmon skin pieces to mix in with the soft rice. It is a nice contrast and tastes great. I cut the skin into strips then fried it in peanut oil. You could fry the skin whole then break it into smaller pieces if you wish. Just cook it till it is dark brown and very crispy then sprinkle some salt over the crackly skin when you are done.
Fried Rice with Salmon and Brussels Sprouts
- 5 TB peanut oil or canola oil divided
- 2- inch piece of fresh ginger root peeled and minced
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 1/3 lb 8 large shrimp, cut into thirds (optional)
- Kosher Salt to taste
- 8 oz 201 g cooked salmon
- 1 onion thinly sliced into half-moon pieces
- 7 oz 201 g cooked Brussels sprouts, slivered (or 1/2 half a head of Napa cabbage, thinly sliced)
- 1-2 medium carrots 2.25 oz / 61 g julienne
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 3 cups 14.5 oz / 412 g cooked rice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup sherry or vermouth
- 1/2 tsp hot sauce
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 TB sherry vinegar
- Garnish with fried salmon skin or chopped peanuts, sliced scallions, or sesame seeds
Heat 2 TB peanut oil or canola oil in a large skillet, set at medium high. Add the half of the minced ginger and minced garlic and sauté until soft, but not brown. Add the prepared shrimp and cook until just done. The shrimp will no longer be translucent, and are tender when pierced with a fork, about 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a plate and reserve. Add the salmon and sear on the top and bottom sides of the salmon of a couple of minutes. Remove the salmon and reserve.
Add 2 TB of peanut oil or canola oil to the pan and heat. When warm add sliced onion and cook until soften, but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and ginger and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add carrots and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the cooked Brussels sprouts (or fresh Napa cabbage) and cook until warmed through. If you are cooking fresh vegetables cook until soft but retains some of the bright green color, about 10 minutes. Season the vegetables with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
If using peas add them to the vegetables and cook until heated through. Remove the vegetables from the pan and keep warm.
Combine the soy sauce, vermouth or sherry, and hot sauce in a small bowl and set aside.
Wipe out the pan and add the last tablespoon of oil and heat up. Add the rice and cook until warmed through.
Break apart the salmon to large flaky pieces and add to the rice. Add the vegetables, shrimp and soy/sherry or vermouth mixture and toss to coat. Cook until the rice mixture is hot.
Make a well in the center of the rice and pour the eggs into the well. Cook undisturbed for about one minute then stir the eggs with a fork to encourage the eggs to make small curds. Mix the eggs with rice and vegetables until cooked through.
Turn off the heat and add the sherry vinegar. Stir.
Garnish with your favorite garnishes, like sliced scallions, parsley, basil, chopped salted peanuts or pistachios, salmon skin cracklings, or sesame seeds.
To make the fried salmon skin, add 2-3 tablespoons of oil to a skillet or wok and heat on medium high. Add the skin to the hot skillet and cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Stir to cook the skin on all sides and not burn. When crisp and brown, remove the skin using a slotted spoon and place on paper towels. Sprinkle with a small pinch of Kosher salt.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
One ancient grain that is making a new impression in today’s modern diet is farro. I discovered it a few years ago by accident when I bought it instead of fregola. My lapse in memory steered me off course because farro is a wheat and fregola is a pasta made with semolina flour. These items don’t belong in the same aisle at the grocery store. Fortunately, this mistake was well worth making and I have cooked farro ever since.
Farro is a whole grain with an ancient pedigree. This grain was a staple wheat that fed ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. According to The Spruce, farro might be the mother wheat from which all wheat comes from. Honestly, I am more confused now than before I stared researching farro. Apparently, some confusion exists about the name or I should say, names. I don’t know if it is made by combining three wheat varieties – einkorn, emmer and spelt. Or, identified as either of the three wheat varieties. Or, all of the above. After reading the two previously linked articles and this one from NPR, I think it is all of the above.
Ultimately, what is important to know is the variety of farro. The variety determines how you must prepare your farro and how long to cook it. The three varieties are, whole, semi-pearled, and pearled. Whole grain farro has the whole grain intact and needs overnight soaking before cooking. The semi-pearled and pearled varieties have the bran partially or completely removed. Without the bran, farro cooks faster and does not need soaking. My grocery store only carries pearled farro, so I do not have experience cooking with the other varieties. Because of the different varieties, I recommend reading the label and directions carefully. This way you know what type of farro you have and how long to cook it.
Despite the varieties and confusion, farro is a delicious grain and worth making. I like its nutty flavor and chewy texture. The complexity of flavor adds more depth and is a nice substitute for rice or potatoes. Usually, I make it for a side dish with roasted meats. This way, while the meat roasts, it is easy to focus my attention on making the farro.
Pair farro with Roast Pork with Lemon and Herbs
Honey Mustard Spatchcock Chicken (without the roasted veggies)
Cooking with Farro
For this recipe, I craved something with the creaminess of a risotto, but not as rich and requiring less effort. Mushrooms add smooth and silky texture to grains and are in season now. They make the grains taste creamy without adding dairy. There is a pound of mushrooms sautéed with two types of onions in this meal for a super luxurious feel and earthy flavor. I combined cremini mushrooms and button mushrooms, yet any mushroom combination will work.
Additionally, I added some dried porcini mushroom powder for extra depth. This is optional but is an economical and effective way to add wild mushroom flavor. If only white button mushrooms are available, I recommend adding the dried mushroom powder to boost the mushroom flavor. To make it, grind dried mushrooms in a spice grinder until it turns into a fine powder. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid in your pantry. Just a small amount of the dried mushroom powder adds a lot of body to any meal.
Whenever I cook with grains, I like to make them easily adaptable to a vegetarian or vegan main dish. By itself, farro with mushrooms and rosemary is not a complete protein source. With the added cashews, this is a nutritionally dense side dish. Add cannellini beans or lentils, and this transforms into a protein-packed plant-based meal. Grains and legumes are complementary proteins, so when combined in one meal all the amino acids are available. Because semi-pearled or pearled farro has some or all the bran removed, these types of grains do not make a complete protein when combined with legumes. Yet, it is a great vegan option.
How to Cook Farro
Instead of following the directions on the back label of my farro, I followed the recommendation from Joshua McFadden in his Six Seasons Cookbook. First, I toasted the farro in a large skillet with smashed garlic and red pepper flakes. Once toasted, I added water and a bay leaf, covered the pan and let it simmer until done. I like making rice like this too. Toasting grains in a skillet brings out the nuttiness in the grain and the fragrance is delightful. It cooks faster too. Unfortunately, toasting farro and sautéing the mushrooms requires the use of two large skillets. If you only have one skillet, use a 4 or 5-quart Dutch Oven for the mushrooms, and a 10-inch skillet for the farro. Sautéing vegetables and toasting grains requires a wide surface area to prevent the food from steaming.
With the sautéed mushrooms and onions an ancient grain comes to life with rich flavors. I got the desired creaminess of risotto without all the stirring and extra cheese. Like chatting with a dear friend, farro with mushrooms and rosemary provide sustenance and comfort after a day’s work.
Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary
For the Farro
- 1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 1 cup 188 g pearled farro
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups 1 liter water
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
For the Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary
- 2 TB Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small sweet onion minced
- 1 medium shallot minced
- 2 stalks celery minced reserve leaves for later
- 8 oz (225 g) baby bella mushrooms a mix of sliced and rough chopped
- 8 oz (225 g) button mushrooms a mix of sliced and rough chopped
- 1 tsp dried porcini mushroom powder* optional
- 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 TB butter
- 1 TB sherry vinegar
- 2 oz (62 g) 62 g lightly salted cashews, rough chopped
- More rosemary and celery leaves for garnish
Make the Farro
Place a large skillet on a burner and turn the heat to medium. Add the olive oil. Just when the olive oil begins to shimmer, add the crushed garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir to coat and gently sauté until the garlic begins to brown and soften, about 3 minutes. Add the farro and bay leaf and stir to coat. Constantly stir the grains while toasting so they do not burn. Toast the farro until it begins to brown and become fragrant. Add the water and Kosher salt then bring to boil. Cover the skillet and turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook the farro until tender but still has a bite. It should not be mushy or the grain split open. Start tasting the farro at 15 minutes for doneness and continue as needed. When the farro is just cooked, drain the water and remove the bay leaf.
Putting it all together
Meanwhile, heat up a large skillet and add 2 TB olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the celery onions and shallots. Stir to combine. Remove the rosemary leaves off its stem and add the stem to the onions and celery. Reserve the rosemary leaves for later. Sauté on medium heat until the vegetables get tender and the onions translucent. Add a small pinch of Kosher salt, about 1/4 tsp and stir.
Add all the mushrooms and stir to get them nicely coated with oil. Continue to cook and occasionally stir until all the juices from the mushrooms evaporate.
Scoop out a tablespoon of the farro cooking liquid and add it plus 1 teaspoon of the dried mushroom powder to the mushrooms. Stir until mixed in. Taste and correct the seasoning for salt. Remove the rosemary stems and stir in the butter.
When the farro is cooked al dente and drained from the water, add it to the skillet with the mushrooms. Stir. Add the minced rosemary and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. Add a few grinds of the fresh pepper and one tablespoon of sherry vinegar, turn off the heat and stir.
Garnish with chopped cashews, chopped celery leaves, and chopped rosemary. This dish can be made ahead and reheated later. Add the cashews and herb garnishes just before serving.
Serve hot as a side dish.
To make the dried mushroom powder. Add a small handful of dried mushrooms to a clean spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Continue until you used up all your dried mushrooms. Put the mushroom powder in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Store in your pantry for 3 months. This mushroom powder recipe is from My Master Recipes by Patricia Wells.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Breakfast, how I love thee, let me count the ways. I love thee for the replenishment after an evening’s fast. I love thee for the breakfast coffee which awakens me from my evening slumber. I love thee for the simple unpretentious food like cereal, eggs, toast and fruit which ease me into a new day. I love thee for the endless sweet and savory discoveries that enlighten me.
Alas, more breakfast love has come my way in the form of a new breakfast discovery. It is not sexy or fancy but belongs in the simple and unpretentious category – baked oatmeal. I happen to like oatmeal, and all hot cereal, so I am open-minded to this idea of baking it. However, if you are not a fan of oatmeal this might be the recipe that will win you over. It is one of the easiest and adaptable breakfast recipes around.
For the last 50 something years, I have been dutifully stirring a pot of oatmeal to just the right consistency, without ever questioning if there was a better way. That was foolish of me, because there is. What a novel idea. It is so simple, I am kicking myself for not thinking of this earlier. Apparently, it is an old secret because the Amish have been baking oatmeal for generations.
Baked oatmeal is rolled oats layered between fruit and sweetened with maple syrup and milk. It is like a cross between a bread pudding and a fruit crumble without the crunch. It is not custardy or rich like bread pudding, but there is a similar texture. The rolled oats absorb the maple syrup and milk, plus the juices of all the fruit and spices while it is baking. This process transforms oatmeal from an indistinguishable porridge to a healthy baked breakfast treat. It is so good, you will believe you are eating dessert for breakfast, minus the guilt.
While I was baking breakfast rolled oats, the house filled with the sweet scent of maple syrup, apple pie and oatmeal cookies. It was quite intoxicating. I had almost forgotten how magical these aromas can be. Despite the fact I had just eaten lunch, the smell of baked oatmeal made me so hungry, I became impatient for the oatmeal to finish. This seductive smell is very persuasive and could convert any oatmeal skeptic to grab a spoon and dig in. Certainly, I wish I knew about this 28 years ago when I tried and miserably failed, to get my kids to eat hot cereal. I can imagine their chiming, “Is it done yet? Can I have some?”
Easy Adaptations for Baked Oatmeal
As I mentioned earlier, baked oatmeal is one of the most adaptable recipes around. If you are on a non-dairy diet, substitute milk with unsweetened coconut milk or almond milk. If you are on a vegan diet, substitute with non-dairy milk and a flaxseed egg substitute. Full disclosure, I haven’t tested that yet, but I don’t see why it would not work. If you make this a vegan breakfast, please let me know how it goes.
Additionally, use your favorite fruit or whatever is in season. I made this fruit filling because I needed to use up some leftover dried fruit from my pantry. The dried figs, apricots and cranberries went perfectly with apples and minced ginger. Follow the basic recipe, then substitute the fruit with any seasonal fruit you have available, even frozen fruit. They all work. If raisins are the only fruit you want to use, then you will need a fresh fruit like apples, or bananas sliced lengthwise and cover the bottom of the pan. Mix the raisins with the rolled oats and proceed as directed. The fruit on the bottom of your baking dish will help prevent the oats from sticking to the pan.
Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, is my primary source and where I first discovered this simple but remarkable breakfast. For this recipe, I followed a basic formula I found consistent in most baked oatmeal recipes. Typically, they all had about 2 cups of rolled oats, 2 cups of liquid, 1 egg, melted butter, a sweetener, and various amounts of fruit and spices.
March is a tweener month for fresh produce, and why this recipe includes apples and dried fruit. I love to combine fresh and dried fruits. The concentrated flavors of the dried fruit add a lot of fruit flavor. Plus, I had a lot of odd amounts of dried fruit that I needed to use up, and this recipe is perfect for that. My baked oatmeal has a decent amount of fruit in it, but if you want a ratio of more oatmeal than fruit, it is easy to scale the fruit down. Just make sure there is a good fruit layer on the bottom of your pan.
Baked oatmeal is also easy to make ahead and reheat it for a later time. I like to make it on a Sunday morning, then reheat individual portions in the microwave throughout the week. This makes the work week easier to manage when I don’t have to think about what’s for breakfast. You can also prepare it ahead, refrigerate, then reheat the whole dish, covered in aluminum foil, in the oven.
To be honest, I was surprised at how good baked oatmeal is. However, there is one downsize, and that is I used three bowls to make it. Baked oatmeal may require more cleanup, but it is more enjoyable to eat than the standard stove top recipe. This is one new discovery worth making. Oh baked oatmeal, how I love thee.
Baked Oatmeal with Apples and Apricots
- 2 apples which can be different varieties but should be ones that do not get too mushy when baked
- 6 dried apricots
- 6 dried figs
- ¼ - ½ cup dried cranberries
- 1 heaping Tbs of minced ginger
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg 1/4 tsp if using store bought ground nutmeg
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
- Shy ½ cup chopped walnuts optional
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground ginger optional
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 Tbs melted butter
- 2 cups milk or unsweetened nondairy milk - like coconut or almond milk
- 1/3 cup real maple syrup
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375˚F / 190˚C / Gas Mark 5 and place the rack on the top third of the oven. Generously butter an 8’ x 8” (20cm square) baking pan.
Core and slice the apples then chop into decent bite size pieces. There is no need to peel the apples. Mince the dried apricots into pieces between ¼ inch to ½ inch big. Chop the dried figs into bite size pieces.
Add the prepared fruit into a mixing bowl, then add lemon juice, freshly ground nutmeg, and minced ginger. Mix well to get all the fruit evenly distributed. Set aside.
In another bowl mix together the rolled oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and most of the chopped walnuts. (Reserve some walnuts to sprinkle on the top). Mix the ingredients together to get evenly combined. Set aside.
In a third bowl, whisk together the milk, maple syrup, pure vanilla extract, and room temperature melted butter until thoroughly mixed together. Set aside.
Putting it all together.
Add a good layer of the prepared fruit to generously cover the bottom of the buttered baking dish. Add the oatmeal and spread it to cover the layer of fruit. Pour the milk mixture all over the oatmeal, and tilt the pan to encourage the milk to flow into all corners and throughout the oatmeal. Bang the pan against the counter to make sure the milk has flowed completely through the rolled oats and fruit. Add the remaining fruit and chopped nuts to cover the top of the oatmeal.
Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until it is golden brown on top and looks set in the middle.
Remove the baked oatmeal from the oven and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Spoon portions of the baked oatmeal in a bowl and serve warm plain, or with additional milk or yogurt. I think it is sweet enough as is, but add more maple syrup if you want it sweeter.
Store in the refrigerator covered for several days. Re-heat in the microwave in a glass container covered with a paper towel.
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