Hailing from the Campania region of Italy, riso al forno (baked risotto) is a simple peasant dish of Italian baked rice, tomato sauce, and lots of cheese.
I had tons of lasagna ingredients leftover but couldn’t bear the thought of making another lasagna. I went off to Google and started reading about Italian baked rice which led to down a rabbit hole of Riso al Forno.
I’d like to do some more research on this dish, but truthfully, there aren’t a TON of recipes or articles about it. But what I’ve gathered is that riso al forno–rice in the oven–may also be called baked risotto. I did see recipes for baked risotto, but they really didn’t follow the same premise of riso al forno. From what I understand, this rice dish is not really trying to have the same consistency as risotto. Instead, it is layers of parboiled rice paired with layers of cheese and sauce and then baked.
Riso al forno hails from the Campania region of Italy (though one source suggested Sicily).
Some recipes call for the rice to be dressed in whisked eggs. Some recipes call for hardboiled eggs to be added in with a layer of cheese, which does make sense given that hardboiled egg is a component of Lasagna Napoletana.
For this version, I used just a few simple components:
- Tomato Sauce with Meat
- Parboiled arborio rice
These ingredients are layered, similar to lasagna, in a casserole dish and then baked until the rice is tender. Multiple recipes praise the cheese filaments (shown below).
How to make riso al forno:
Making riso al forno is a breeze. First, parboil arborio rice in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse it thoroughly under cold water. Toss with extra virgin olive oil and parmesan cheese.
Next, prepare the sauce. You can also prepare the sauce the day before.
Once the sauce is finished, layer the ingredients. Butter a casserole dish and pour half the rice into the casserole dish. Layer in half of the sauce. Next, add a mix of mozzarella and parmesan. Add the remaining rice, then add the remaining sauce, and the remaining cheese. Bake for 25–35 minutes or until the rice is tender.
You can broil the casserole briefly to get the beautiful browned spots on top! That’s all there is to it. Most of the time with this recipe is inactive; waiting for the sauce to finish and waiting for the casserole to bake, but you can save some time by preparing the sauce ahead of time.
Looking for more rice recipes? Check my archives!
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Riso al Forno (Baked Risotto)
- Large pot
- Large pot
- Fine mesh sieve
- 12×8 daking dish
- 2 cups arborio rice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese divided
- 1 teaspoon neutral oil
- 1 pound loose hot Italian sausage
- 1 pound ground beef or use ground turkey or ground pork
- 2 tablespoons butter plus more for greasing the casserole dish
- 1 yellow onion peeled and diced
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon dry thyme
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 15- ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon sugar optional
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese divided
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parsley or basil leaves
- Chili oil optional
Parboil the arborio rice:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and boil for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under very cold water. Once the rice is cool to the touch, transfer it to a large bowl with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and toss to coat. Set aside.
Brown the meat:
- Add 1 teaspoon neutral oil to the second large pot and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the sausage and beef and use a wooden spoon to break them up as they cook—season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking for 12–15 minutes until the meat browns and is mostly cooked through. Transfer to a bowl.
Cook the sauce aromatics:
- Melt the butter into the pot used to brown the meat. Once bubbly, add the onion and cook for 6–8 minutes until it begins to soften. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper, and thyme and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
Simmer the sauce:
- Add the tomato paste and mash it into the aromatics. Cook for 2 minutes until the paste deepens in color. Add the canned tomatoes and stir to incorporate. Add the sugar, if you like. Add the cooked meat to the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir the sauce occasionally to prevent it from sticking.
Assemble the rice:
- Preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Grease a 12×8 baking dish with butter.
- Add half of the parboiled arborio rice to the dish and use the back of your spoon to flatten it into an even layer. Next, ladle over half the sauce and spoon it into an even layer over the rice. Next, add half the shredded mozzarella cheese and half of the remaining grated parmesan. Add the remaining rice and then the sauce. Finish the casserole with the remaining mozzarella and remaining parmesan cheese.
Bake the rice:
- Transfer to the preheated oven for 25–35 minutes. Check the rice at 25 minutes and continue baking until tender.
Broil the rice (optional):
- Once the rice is tender, drizzle with 1–2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil and transfer to the broiler for 1–2 minutes until the cheese bubbles and turns deep golden brown.
- Allow the riso al forno to set out at room temperature for 5–10 minutes. Garnish with parsley, basil, or chili oil if you like. Enjoy!