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Mushroom risotto

Mushroom risotto

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.

Mushroom Risotto

25g dried porcini mushrooms
350g mixed mushrooms
Olive oil
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.

One Year Ago:  The Chocolate Behemoth

Parsnip, Sage and Blue Cheese Risotto

My local fruit and veg shop, SMBS Foods in East Dulwich, sells such enormous bunches of herbs – far bigger than those packets that you get in the supermarket – that I always end up with a week of meals planned around them.  After picking up a bunch for yesterday’s lentil soup, I find myself with an abundance of sage.  This is far from a problem as common sage, or salvia officinalis to use its Latin name, is an excellent winter herb as its pungency lends itself to a range of meats and root vegetables.  Sage and onion stuffing and butternut squash and sage risotto are seasonal classics.  I also love a scattering of crispy sage leaves on top of a white pizza with sausage. Cold weather heaven.

This particular dish was a triumph in the game of let’s-use-up-what’s-in-the-fridge, played by those too lazy to brave the abominable London weather and make a trip to the shops.  It used up the last of the Christmas ingredients still hanging around from before our trip home, most notably a few scratty old parsnips and the end of a wedge of Stilton, far past its best.  Making a risotto is a great way of saving these kinds of odds-and-ends from the bin, so I usually keep a stash of arborio rice in the cupboard (it can also be used to make rice pudding).  I roasted the parsnips first in a little olive oil and sea salt and then stirred them in towards the end of the cooking as they taste much better than if you try to boil them in the stock with the rice.  The crumble of blue cheese at the end means that you can forgo the usual risotto staples of parmesan and butter, making it (very) slightly more virtuous.

Parsnip, Sage and Blue Cheese Risotto

  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into large dice
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 2 eschalion shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 large sage leaves, finely chopped, plus extra for the topping
  • 350g arborio rice
  • 125ml dry white wine
  • 1l vegetable stock
  • Black pepper
  • A chunk of blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Place the parsnips on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until they are tender and brown.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (I use one with straight sides) and saute the shallots, carrot, celery, sage and garlic until soft – do not let them brown.  Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated in the oil.

Turn up the heat slightly and add the wine.  Allow it to bubble away and cook until it is almost evaporated.  Start to add the stock, a ladle at a time, adding the next ladle when the previous one has evaporated. Stir constantly.  When most of the stock has been added, stir in the cooked parsnips breaking them up just a little.  Add the remaining stock if necessary.  Check the seasoning.

When the risotto is cooked, remove from the heat, crumble over the blue chese and stir through.  In a separate pan, heat some oil and quickly fry a few sage leaves over a high heat until they are crisp.  Crumble these over the risotto and serve in large warmed bowls.