Mushroom Risotto, for Stephen

You know, risotto’s never been my bag. Don’t get me wrong, I like the taste of it just fine, quite a bit in fact, and the texture can be mighty comforting. But generally I find myself getting a little, how you say, bored with it when it’s all alone on my plate. In all my years of cooking, it’s never once occurred to me to try to make it.

Until one night mid-Passover, when Stephen and I went out for dinner. I ordered my sorta-kosher-for-Passover roast chicken (kosher only because it didn’t have any overt chametz—we definitely weren’t in a kosher restaurant, not by a long shot); Stephen surprised me by ordering risotto. I’ve never seen him order it before, so I asked him about it—turns out his mom used to make risotto as a treat every so often, and he grew up loving it. Plain, simple, basic risotto, with just a bit of onion but no other vegetables. In my chametz-deprived stupor, this suddenly sounded incredibly appealing; I resolved to make a batch for Stephen PDQ.

Of course, now that my bread-blood levels are restored to their normal balance, the idea of plain risotto has lost some of its luster. Instead, I floated the possibility of making a mushroom version by Stephen tonight, and luckily he bit. Pulled out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which I tend to trust for basic recipes like this, and sure enough there was a version using dried mushrooms and one that called for fresh. We had both in the kitchen, and since I liked the idea of using the mushroom soaking liquid in the risotto for a flavor boost, I decided to combine the approaches.

Stephen and I took turns stirring—you don’t have to work the spoon endlessly, as risotto mythology would lead you to believe—but you can’t really walk away from the stove for more than a minute at a time. While one of us stirred, the other chopped vegetables for a big salad. The end result was quite yummy indeed, filling and healthy (there’s not a lot of fat in the recipe as I adapted it, just two tablespoons at the beginning and a handful of parmesan at the end). And as long as I had a forkful or two of sprightly salad to break up the monotony, I didn’t get bored once.

We’ve got some leftovers, so tomorrow night I think I’ll try my hand at risotto cakes—with their crispy golden outsides, I’ve never been bored by them!

Mushroom Risotto
Serves 3-4 as a main course, 4-6 as a side or app
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

1 ounce dried mushrooms [my package was a variety of different ones]
1 ½ cups hot water
3-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or water
2 T butter and/or olive oil
2 shallots or 1 medium onion, minced
1 ½ cups fresh cremini or porcini mushrooms, chopped
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
Salt & pepper
½ cup dry white wine [I used vermouth]
A big handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Soak the dried mushrooms in the hot water. Warm the stock over medium heat and leave the heat on.

When the mushrooms soften, place the butter/oil in a large saucepan [Bittman recommends nonstick, but I used a regular pan and had no problem] and turn the heat to medium. When it’s hot, add the shallots or onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for another 5-7 minutes. Drain the dried mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Squeeze them dry, chop, and add to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes; do not let the mushrooms brown.

Add the rice and stir until it is coated with butter/oil. Add a little salt & pepper, then the wine or vermouth. Stir and let the liquid bubble away.

Strain the mushroom-soaking liquid and add it to the rice; stir and let the liquid bubble away. Begin to add the stock, ½ cup at a time [I added a large ladleful, no measuring], stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Keep the heat medium to medium-high, and stir frequently (constant stirring is not necessary).

Begin tasting the rice 20 minutes after you add it to the pan; you want it to be tender but with still a tiny bit of crunch. It could take as long as 30 minutes to reach this stage [ours took about 25]. When it does, add the parmesan and remove from the heat. Check the seasoning, adjust if necessary, and serve immediately.