Hangry waits for no one. Especially not Kendra Vaculin, our associate food editor. In Speedy Does It, her monthly column, she’s sharing whoa-worthy dinners you can get on the table like *snaps fingers* that.
Regular viewers of cooking competitions will tell you that every TV show has a kiss of death —a mistake that so regularly sends contestants packing it’s almost become a cliché. On Chopped, it’s using the ice cream machine, an appliance that’s likely to discharge something you could drink with a straw rather than a scoopable sorbet if not given enough time. On The Great British Baking Show, it’s the dreaded soggy bottom, an underbaked crust turned to mush by the juicy filling. And on Top Chef, a contestant is almost guaranteed to be in the bottom three if they choose to make risotto.
In real life, risotto is not complicated to nail, as long as you’re willing to put in the work. But on Top Chef, time and patience—two of risotto’s most important ingredients—are in short supply. Risotto with the right texture can’t be rushed: hurry the process and you’ll end up with underdone rice, a soupy consistency, or (SOS) both. And it requires constant attention in the form of continuous stirring, which agitates the starch in the rice as it cooks and thickens the liquid around it. When up against the clock and racing to complete other dish components, even the best-intentioned Top Chef competitors can’t give risotto what it needs to succeed.
Of course, for those of us not on a reality TV show, many of the same challenges seem to pop up around dinnertime. Though Padma Lakshmi isn’t the one telling me my time limit, I still rush to get something on the table most nights. And though Tom Collicchio isn’t staring judgmentally at my mise en place, I’m still too distracted by other things to dedicate my full attention to methodical rice stirring.
So my shortcut to risotto takes all of this into consideration, yielding a creamy, velvety, springy end result without the Bravo-level stakes.
First, you’ll swap rice (risotto recipes usually call for arborio or carnaroli varieties) for orzo, a rice-shaped pasta. You’ll get the same luscious consistency thanks to the starch released when stirring pasta, but in a fraction of the total cook time.
Then, you’ll use vegetables that cook directly in the risotto itself, rather than requiring a separate pan. Frozen green peas and thinly sliced snap peas need just a few minutes in the pasta mixture—time you’d be dedicating to the orzo anyway—to turn perfectly crisp-tender.
And finally, your big flavor moment will come from store-bought pesto, to add herbaceousness and color with no extra effort. I like to spring for the fresh stuff, usually in a refrigerated section in the produce department, rather than a jarred variety, for the basil-iest flavor and brightest green hue. The finished dish might not win me any prizes but it certainly keeps me safe from elimination (a.k.a. stuck with a boring dinner) for one more day.