Bake for the Sake

Photos and recipe by Laura Hobbs

I think my past couple of articles have started with a whiny lament about the cold weather. So here’s another one to add to the pile: Freaking freaky freak, it’s cold! I know, I know, it could be worse. This could be NYC. This could be Boston. We could be buried under 19 inches of snow with a negative-whatever wind chill. But to be honest, I like the snow; I’m one of those people who say every single winter, “If it’s going to be this &*^%@!# cold, I want some %&*^$#@ snow!”

Parmesan Rinds

As it is, I’m confined to the three foot radius of my ever-blazing wood burning stove, wrapped in my chenille blanket (Restoration Hardware, I love you), sporting a hoodie six sizes too big and a pair of fuzzy slippers that look like they’ve been mauled by a one-eyed pygmy goat. When I think Hubs isn’t looking, I rush to the thermostat to turn it up to 72°, feeling his stink eye blazing through the back of my head. Hubs, if you’re reading this: THIS IS MY HOME. NOT A MEAT LOCKER.

Arkansas Sweet Potatoes

When cold weather hits, warm, cozy meals are the only way to go. As I’ve mentioned in several articles before, simple, one pot meals are not only a cinch, but a surefire way to warm up on a cold night. In months past, I’ve made a spicy chicken stew, a one pot wonder, and a cheesy polenta pie, which has been dubbed “Most Popular Recipe” by Flyer Foodie fans everywhere. Let’s delve into another to add to the list.

This recipe was inspired by one that I found in Everyday Food, my go-to mag for weeknight dinner inspiration. The original recipe was for a baked squash risotto. Now, y’all know how much I love squash; but y’all also know how much I dread hacking into the cursed gourd. I feel like I need a hacksaw and a stick of dynamite just to cut the dang thing open. So instead, I opted for sweet potatoes, which have a similar texture and flavor, without all the fuss. Next order of business: risotto.

Arborio Rice

Traditionally, risotto is labored over for the better part of an hour, sautéing the onion, sautéing the rice, adding the wine, massaging the stock into the rice, adding more stock, getting distracted by creepy hipster Steven Tyler on American Idol, frantically scraping the burning rice off the bottom of the pan, adding more stock, massaging the rice, etc., etc. This version is hands off – totally OFF, I tell you! What begins as an odd-looking soup of stock, raw rice, sweet potatoes and kale turns into a wonderfully creamy, savory treat in only 30 minutes – and that 30 minutes can be spent on the couch, pondering the meaning of life, and if all of that REALLY IS J-Lo’s natural hair.

Chopped Kale

The addition of kale chips amped this recipe up a notch or two. Introduced to me by my bestie, Bev (whose own wonderful food blog you can find at, kale chips are phenomenal. All you do is drizzle a little olive oil, salt and pepper over some ripped up kale, pop it in the oven, and in no time you have crispy, salty, green, addictive chips. These babies are delicious crumbled over the risotto bake, or just by themselves. My challenge to you: eat just one. It’s impossible.

So even though I’m spending at least the next six weeks huddled in front of the fire in a mega-hoodie and long underwear, cursing the winter and wondering why on earth I don’t live on St. John, at least I can find warm solace in delicious one pot meals, including my winter risotto bake. And for all you vegetarians out there, rejoice: this one’s veg-head friendly, and delicious to boot. Enjoy!

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Winter Risotto Bake with Kale Chips

Download this recipe

1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme)
1 1/2 c. Arborio rice
1/2 c. beer, preferably pale ale or lager
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced medium
4 c. vegetable broth
1 bunch kale, divided, tough stems removed
1/2 the bunch chopped into 1/2″ thick pieces,
1/2 the bunch ripped into chip-sized chunks
1 Parmesan rind (optional)
Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt & pepper

Bringing to a Boil

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot with a lid, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and the thyme and cook for about a minute longer, until fragrant. Add the raw rice and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to make soft crackling sounds and goes opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the beer and stir, until it’s completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir in the chopped kale and season with salt and pepper. If you have a parmesan rind, add it now. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed.

Kale Chips

For the Kale Chips:
1/2 bunch kale, ripped into chip-sized chunks
olive oil, salt and pepper

On a rimmed baking sheet, sparingly drizzle the ripped kale with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss gently. Bake in a 400° oven for about 8-9 minutes, until the kale begins to crisp and go brown. Serve crumbled over the risotto bake, as an appetizer or as a snack while you cook.

* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.

Laura Hobbs
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her Flyer Foodie author page. For more cooking, recipes, and other food-related inspiration, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.