I did not grow up eating risotto. It was not a dish on the menus of the many fine Italian-American restaurants in Memphis we ate at during my childhood. When it started to become a common and trendy dish, for many years, I assumed it was some sort of chef-secret dish that couldn’t be created at home (a silly thought now I know). Once I realized that at its heart, risotto is simple fare that takes only a little patience, it became a comfort favorite for me. I love a creamy, homey bowl of risotto, and I find the stirring meditative and relaxing. One of the joys of cooking is watching plain ingredients transform into something altogether luxurious, and no dish is more an example of that than witnessing grains of rice release their starch into a luscious, creamy creation layered with flavors and sophistication.
I make risotto with all sorts of flavors – like my Carrot and Dill version, or the seasonal Squash Blossom iteration. Sometimes I go plain with just a dose of parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, sometimes I stir in fresh tomato sauce from my summer stash. But the point is, I usually make it only for myself. When you have guests to serve, standing over the stove stirring a pot of rice isn’t always feasible or friendly. I’ve tried baked versions, restaurant tricks for preparing it partially ahead, even a slow cooker method. But none have ever been completely satisfying. Until this springform version. Eggs hold the whole thing together and ricotta keeps the final result creamy. I tend to let the edges get slightly crispy, which adds an extra touch of texture, and I love the gooey layer of cheese oozing from the center. The presentation is pretty impressive too. Unmold the dish onto a pretty platter and add a sprinkle of fresh herbs for color.
My favorite risotto indulgence that I make for myself on special occasions uses salty pancetta, woodsy marjoram and aromatic taleggio. These flavors meld together beautifully to make a very pungent and unique whole. I have used the combination to top pizza and focaccia as well. But once you get the hang of this risotto cake, you can use any flavors you like.