The rich earthy flavour of wild mushrooms in this mushroom risotto makes it a wonderful belly-pleasing comfort food on a cool autumn day. (Forget the notion that risotto is too time-consuming – it’s on the table in 30 minutes and you can get the rest of dinner ready in between stirring.)
I am so excited!
We are leaving in two days on a holiday – heading to Italy for three weeks.
It finally feels real. As the first swirls of icy snow blast through our bare and brown gardens and yards, I am thinking of that warm Italian sun with such anticipation. Rome, the Trevi fountain, the Colloseum, gelato, pizza, Napoli, limoncello, the Almalfi coast, Sicily, ripe cheeses, wine harvest, seaside towns . . .
It’s been a whirlwind around here. Our baby (who turns 20 today – we officially have no teenagers left in our house – I’m shedding a tear) is leaving for a three-month backpacking trip through southeast Asia with his two cousins, on the same day that we’re leaving for Italy.
Getting him ready and organized (why would you renew your passport ahead of time when you can leave it to the last week and have much more excitement in your life?) plus getting ourselves organized, and the garden put to bed, and flowerbeds cleaned up, and tons of applesauce canned, and lesson plans made ahead for my German School classes, and a birthday/Thanksgiving celebration to prepare for tomorrow, plus a wedding to attend, social obligations, and feeding these three hungry almost-not-teenagers-anymore while they frantically shop and pack (and party with friends) and decorate the house with their backpacks and supplies – it’s been a blur.
Last weekend I made a heavenly risotto with some of the wild honey mushrooms from our mushroom picking adventure. As I spooned the creamy rice into my mouth, I thought about Italy, and totally blanked out all the chaos and busyness that often comes before a trip. In my mind, I was there already, basking in the Mediterranean sun as I savoured one of Italy’s humble-but-so-wildly-delicious comfort food dishes.
As soon as we get our youngest delivered to the airport, and ourselves on a plane a few hours after that, I know I will forget the craziness, and whatever jobs didn’t get done will stay undone – life will go on.
So I leave you with this wonderful wild mushroom risotto. Use whatever mushrooms you can find and enjoy a little taste of Italian comfort.
Ciao, my friends.
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: Risotto is one of our family’s comfort foods. Many people think risotto is complicated and time-consuming, but it really is a fast food, on the table in about 30 minutes. If you use the right type of rice, the rest is easy. Unlike it says in some books, risotto does not have to be stirred constantly – just frequently. So you can be chopping the onion, mincing the garlic, and getting the stock on to simmer while you are cooking the mushrooms. You can be making a salad and setting the table in between stirring the rice every minute or two.
It is important to use the right rice for risotto – you need a rice with a high starch content and a firm short grain, like Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, or Baldo. The frequent stirring rubs the starch off the rice grains and it absorbs into the sauce, thickening it into a creamy consistency, but keeping the centers of each rice grain with a slight chewiness (not mushy). So never rinse the rice you are using for risotto, as you want that starch.
*To make this risotto dairy free, use additional olive oil instead of the butter, and either omit the Parmesan cheese, or use a combination of half almond flour and half nutritional yeast flakes plus extra salt to taste, adding as much of this combination as you like, to taste.
Wild Mushroom Risotto
- 5½ cups (1.32 litres) mushroom stock or beef stock
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 lb (454gms) mixed mushrooms (chanterelles, morels, shiitake, oyster, cremini, portobello, or even all button mushrooms, if that’s all that’s available)
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- pepper, to taste
- 1½ cups (300gms) arborio or carnaroli rice
- ½ cup (120ml) dry white vermouth or dry white wine
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup (100gms) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Pour the mushroom or chicken stock into a saucepan and set onto the stove on low heat to bring it to a simmer. Keep it simmering while you make the risotto.
In a large heavy-bottomed dutch oven or high-sided sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Tear the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Add them to the oil with ¼ teaspoon salt, and sauté until they’ve released their juices. Then keep cooking them, stirring occasionally, until all the juices have cooked off and the mushrooms are starting to brown in places. Scrape the mushrooms into a bowl and set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pan in which you cooked the mushrooms. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, and a sprinkling of pepper, and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Reduce the heat to medium.
Add the rice. Cook and stir for two more minutes, until the rice turns opaque. Pour in the vermouth and cook for 30 seconds.
Add the simmering stock, one soup ladle full (about ½ cup) at a time, stirring after each addition and not adding the next ladleful until most of the previous stock has been absorbed. Never let the risotto cook completely dry. Stir frequently (but you don’t have to stir constantly).
Continue adding stock, cooking, and stirring until you have used all but the last half cup of the stock. This whole process should take about 15 to 20 minutes, and the rice should still have a firm bite to the center of each grain, but the outside should be creamy and soft. Stir in the cooked mushrooms and cook for another 30 seconds.
Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the parsley, and Parmesan cheese. Taste and add more salt if it needs it (but I find it usually doesn’t, unless your stock was unsalted, as the Parmesan and stock both add enough saltiness). If the risotto is quite thick, add the last ½ cup of hot stock to thin it out. The final texture of the risotto should be loose, with a bit of liquid pooling and visible between the rice kernels.
Serve immediately with additional Parmesan cheese.
Serves 4 to 6.
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