The Zen of Risotto

With all the local talk of Fungal Feasts and Truffle Festivals going on at the moment I felt compelled to create my own celebration in the form of a lovely wild mushroom risotto.

There was a time when I had absolutely no interest in risotto.

I had this strange idea that rice was dull and uninteresting – that it was just a bunch of unnecessary carbs. And then, I had to get past the angst of stirring rice for 20 minutes at a time – it seemed like a lot of work for very little reward. Besides, there was usually a lot of other activity going on – like the entrée – and the darned risotto tended to be just another unnecessary culinary distraction.

When I finally had my first bowl of exquisite risotto I was an instant convert. I remember it well. It was a mushroom risotto so full of aromas, flavors, and textures that I couldn’t believe all of that could be happening in one mouthful. It was complex, creamy, and earthy; yet the grains were separate and ‘toothsome’. It was ethereal, sensual, and utterly satisfying. I was completely bewitched and transported to the other side. I was a believer. I’d had a psychic shift over rice.

Now, risotto has been elevated to the main event and surely is not a second rate accompaniment to an entrée. It is the star, and it receives the full attention that an entrée of its stature rightly deserves. When I prepare risotto the stirring of the rice and the slow addition of liquid all fall into a gentle rhythm of relaxed enjoyment and confident anticipation. Yes, it’s a Zen thing. I become one with my rice.

There are a few key factors involved in making an excellent risotto. Seek out Arborio rice –  its flavor, unique texture, and resulting creaminess will make all the difference in the world. Use a flavorful stock, because this is the basis of your risotto. The hot liquid is added in small quantities; allow the liquid to cook down and absorb into the rice before adding more. You will know when it’s time to add another ladleful, because the rice will make a hissing sound. Continue this process until all the liquid is added and the rice is creamy. In all, it should take about 20 minutes.

Risotto is very forgiving and designed for adaptation. Consider other vegetables, even chicken in lieu of mushrooms; vary the herbs and flavorings; change the stock to enhance the other additions. If not already, become a believer. Bon appetit!

Wild Mushroom Risotto
Adapted from World Vegetarian Classics, Celia Brooks Brown

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
4 ½ cups well flavored stock, chicken, beef or vegetable
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups risotto rice, Arborio or carnaroli
9 ounces wild mushrooms, cleaned, coarse chop
3 cloves garlic, well chopped
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
for garni: fresh ground black pepper, additional Parmesan

Place the dried porcini in small bowl and cover with boiling water; allow to soak for about 20 mins. Strain and reserve liquid. Chop porcini coarsely.
Melt the butter in large heavy pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté til translucent, then add rice. Sauté briskly til rice makes a crackling noise and looks slightly translucent. Add the porcini and fresh mushrooms and garlic and sauté briefly until fragrant and they begin to soften. Add vermouth and porcini water all at once and stir. When absorbed and making a hissing sound, add one ladleful of hot stock. Keep stirring.

When stock is absorbed, add another ladle of stock. Continue process until rice looks creamy, 18-20 minutes. Taste for doneness, it should be al dente. Stir in parmesan cheese. Cover and set stand 3-5 minutes. Serve in warm bowls or plates with additional cheese and plenty of pepper. Serves 4 – 6 ~~
Note: Instead of parmesan cheese on top, try a dollop Greek yogurt or mascarpone cheese instead.

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