As much as I love risotto (rice+butter+cheese? I’m there), I really don’t think all flavors of risotto are created equal. Asparagus risotto can be a nice change in the spring, and butternut squash risotto has its place, but nothing can really beat the woodsiness of mushrooms for flavoring such a hearty, bone-sticking dish.
A lot of people think risotto is scary, or hard, neither of which is true. This misconception has a lot to do with the myth that you have to stir risotto the whole time you’re cooking it, a mystifiying instruction that I have never followed and was heartened to see denied by none other than Mario Batali, as reported by Mark Bittman. Risotto is basically just rice, flavored in whatever way — in this case, mushroom. Risotto typically uses arborio rice, a short-grain rice with a particularly high starch content; the slow cooking method of risotto releases the rice’s starch, creating the dish’s creamy texture. There are a few other kinds of short and medium-grain rice that will work, but even TJ’s sells arborio rice, so it shouldn’t be hard to track down, and it will really do the trick. Everything else is pretty much up to you.
I think the best way to figure out a recipe is to check out several and pick the elements you like of each. This one is mostly based on Bittman’s from How to Cook Everything, with a little Deborah Madison mixed in. Many recipes call for either dried mushrooms or fresh ones, but I like a mix of both, for a complexity of flavors and textures.
This recipe makes a good-sized pot of risotto. If you have leftovers, risotto freezes really well and can be defrosted to make arancini, otherwise known as delicious deep-fried balls of goodness, recipe coming soon!
2 tbsp. butter
1 onion (or you can use shallots), chopped
about 2 c. (or more) various mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1-2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
1 1/2 c. white wine
3-5 c. chicken broth (or any other type of broth)
1/4 c. heavy cream (or 1/4 c. mascarpone, or another 2 tbsp. butter)
1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper
optional: 2 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1. Boil 1 c. water and pour over dried porcinis. Let sit for 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are rehydrated and tender. Remove mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Chop rehydrated mushrooms.
2. Heat stock in a small pot (easier if it’s on a back burner). Keep warm, but not boiling, probably around medium-heat.
3. Melt butter in a large pot. Add onion and cook for about a minute, until soft. Add all mushrooms (fresh and rehydrated) and the thyme, if you want it. Cook for a few minutes, until the mushrooms begin to release their juice.
4. Add rice, stirring well to make sure all the rice is coated with butter/mushroom juice. Let cook for a minute, adding some salt and freshly ground pepper. You want the rice to become transluscent, but not to brown (and certainly not to burn!). About three minutes should do the trick.
5. Add the wine, stir. Let simmer until the liquid cooks away.
6. Add the reserved mushroom liquid. Simmer until liquid cooks away again, stirring ocassionally.
7. Add stock a ladle-full at a time, stirring after each addition. Give the risotto a stir about every minute until the liquid more or less evaporates (the risotto should look moist, but not soupy), then add another ladle-full of stock, and repeat.
8. After about 20 minutes, you can begin tasting the rice. I find mine usually takes at least 30 minutes to reach the consistency I want — soft, but with just a touch of bite. When it reaches a point you are happy with, add the cream (or mascarpone, or more butter) and the parmesan. You should see a small transformation in your risotto — it should be much creamier. Adjust the seasonings, and serve immediately. Beware, risotto gets gummy if it sits around for too long.