First: I had the flu jab today. Winter is definitely on its way.
Second: I’m really into risotto this week, so am posting the fourth recipe since beginning this blog. Sorry.
This particular risotto is one that you’ve probably had a hundred times: the classic mushroom risotto. The stalwart of vegetarian options across the land, whether it be at a set-menu Christmas lunch or catered wedding. As a former (lapsed) vegetarian, I have had the good, the bad and the ugly of mushroom risotto ranging from an utterly beautiful one in Rome, to one at a Hampshire pub with raw mushrooms and uncooked rice. Although it seems like an easy meat-free option for a crowd, it is incredibly easy to balls it up.
For one, cooking time is essential. The window for achieving the perfect al dente rice is small – a couple of minutes either way can give you crunch or mush, neither of which are particularly appealing. Also, the best risotto are cooked in relatively small batches, to serve four or six. When you consider pan sizes and hob sizes, even in commercial kitchens, this begins to make sense. For this reason, risotto is perfect for the home cook, which makes sense as it originated as a peasant dish.
To make a good risotto at home, you need the right kind of rice, decent parmesan, patience and a strong arm for the consistent stirring (perhaps not the best dish for after a flu jab, which always gives me a dead arm). I always use arborio rice as it is the most widely available. If you can get hold of carnaroli, your supermarkets are obviously better stocked than my local one. Good parmesan can be found more or less anywhere. The other ingredients are less important – some will proclaim the superiority of home-made stock, but I have never found it to make much of a difference and often use cubes. Which mushrooms you decide to use depends on your own tastes. I love porcini for their strength in flavour and chestnut mushrooms for their woodiness, but have made some perfectly decent risotto using your basic button mushrooms from the supermarket. Waitrose do a 300g box of mixed mushrooms which includes oyster mushrooms and those little Japanese enoki ones which makes things a bit more interesting. I have an aversion to raw mushrooms, so always cook them separately first.
Risotto is a particular kind of comfort food that seems to have been designed for those days that you had a shocker at work, missed the train and got caught in the rain on the way home. Up the parmesan if your day has been particularly bad, and follow it up with a dessert of Nutella eaten straight from the jar with a spoon. Bikini season is ages away, after all.
25g dried porcini mushrooms
350g mixed mushrooms
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
250g arborio rice
150ml white wine
1l vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp mascarpone
50g parmesan, finely grated
1 tbsp chopped parsley
A few drops of truffle oil
First, prepare the mushrooms. Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave them to soak for around 30 minutes. Drain and reserve the water. Roughly chop and set aside.
Slice the mixed mushrooms and fry in a little oil until tender. Set these aside also.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and gently cook the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent, approximately five minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.
Add the white wine and allow it to bubble up until it has evaporated. Add the drained porcini water and allow it to do the same. Be careful not to let any grit from the bowl get into the pan.
Stir in the mushrooms and start adding the stock, a ladle at a time, waiting until it has evaporated before adding the next one. Keep adding the stock, stirring constantly, until the rice is al dente. You may not need all of the stock. This should take about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper, mascarpone, parmesan, parsley and truffle oil. Serve in large bowls.