You may remember that I recently made my own chicken stock for the first time. Ever since then the resulting stock has been sitting in my freezer waiting to be utilized. I, the other hand, have been thinking carefully about what I could make; something that would really showcase my first homemade stock. Finally last night I made the absolute perfect dish with it: mushroom risotto.
Risotto is one of my absolute favourite things to cook, especially after a long day at work. I appreciate that this sounds strange considering risotto is a very involved dish that requires your constant and unerring attention. But I think that’s what I like. There is something really relaxing and cathartic about focusing all your attention on stirring and agitating those little grains of rice, and something ultimately satisfying about the heartwarming creamy risotto that is the result of your faithfulness.
There was a time when I cooked risotto about once a week and practically everytime someone came round for dinner – so most of my friends and family have sampled one or other of my risottos. After so much practice I can almost cook them with my eyes closed. And these are my rules for cooking the ultimate risotto:
- As already mentioned, you have to be willing to give it a lot of attention. You have to stir the grains frequently in order to release the starch from the rice, which is what gives risotto it’s creamy and silky texture. Don’t believe the so-called “no-stir” risottos. These are not risottos; they turn out more like rice-based casseroles or pilaf (fine in themselves, but not risotto). I promise it really will be worth the extra energy. There is simply nothing better than a good risotto: it’s good honest comfort food.
- I personally think it works best if you stir only in one direction (I go clockwise!). As if you’re constantly changing direction and frantically mixing, the rice grains can get broken and you end up with a horrible stodgy risotto. So, don’t bash it around too much: just stir gently in one direction and you’ll get the creamy consistency you’re after.
- Use a wooden spoon as the rough surface will help create friction with the rice grains and agitate them further (again good for the creaminess).
- Use a good quality risotto rice like Vialone Nano Semifino, Carnaroli or Arborio.
- It’s all about the stock and you should use the best quality stock you can get your hands on. The rice cooks by absorbing the stock a little bit at a time, so the better the stock, the tastier your risotto will ultimately be. This is why I decided to cook risotto with my homemade stock!
- For me, this is the most important rule (and different from a lot of recipes you will see): get your flavours into your risotto early! Don’t leave it to the last minute to add the ingredients that are going to give your risotto it’s flavour. The beautiful thing about risotto grains is that they absorb like a sponge, so you want them to be sucking in your flavours as much as possible from as early as possible. For example, in this recipe you’ll see that I chuck in the mushrooms immediately after I add the wine giving the finished product an intensely mushroomy taste!
- Finally, don’t overcook the rice. The grains should have a little bite to them (al dente). If you overcook the rice you will end up with a gluggy mess.
This recipe is quite simple and basic. There aren’t any complicated ingredients really. It’s the kind of risotto I would cook on a normal weeknight. I originally got the recipe from Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef book, but I’ve cooked it so much that it probably bears little resemblance to the original recipe.
One great thing about risotto is you don’t need to be precise about measurements or quantities, and as such I’m not going to give exact quantities here. I don’t ever cook risottos that way, and you too should feel free to chuck in a little of this and a little of that! Afterall Italian cuisine is all about cooking from the heart, not about following recipes faithfully.
- Lots and lots of mushrooms, sliced
- Dried porcini mushrooms (I use about 20g or so)
A note on mushrooms: This recipe is obviously all about the mushrooms and you can really use whatever you can get your hands on. I always use porcini mushrooms and then a variety of others. Here I used large field mushrooms, mini portobellos, and your run of the mill button mushrooms. Another thing to bear in mind is that mushrooms reduce hugely when you cook them. When I’m prepping the mushrooms and I’ve chopped what feels like 100 mushrooms I look at the pile and think “that’s going to be tonnes”, and it is often just the right amount. So chop double what you think you’ll need (the more the better!).
- A handful of thyme, leaves picked
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- half a lemon
- 1 large onion, very finely chopped
- 300g risotto rice
- 1 glass white wine
- 1 litre good quality chicken stock
- Parmasan cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil.
First things first, you need to rehydrate your porcini mushrooms. Put them in a bowl, cover them with warm water and leave them for 15 minutes or so. Once they are rehydrated, drain them (reserving the soaking water – that’s pure porcini gold) and add them to your other mushrooms.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan and chuck in a couple of handfuls of mushrooms (you will definitely need to do this in batches) along with some thyme. Cook for one minute or so before adding some of the chopped garlic and a little bit of salt and then cook for another minute or so. Finally add a squeeze of lemon juice, give them a good toss and remove to a bowl whilst you cook the rest of the mushrooms in exactly the same way.
Once all your mushrooms are cooked, put them to one side. Now it’s time to start your risotto. Firstly, heat your stock. Then in a separate large heavy-bottomed pan heat a couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil. Add the finely chopped onion and cook until soft. Turn up the heat and add your risotto rice and cook for a couple of minutes stirring constantly (but slowly). You don’t want any colour on the rice so it’s important to keep the grains moving (if the temparature seems a bit too high, then turn it down a bit). After a couple of minutes the rice will begin to look a bit translucent; once it does, add the white wine, keeping on stirring as it sizzles into the hot pan (this will smell absolutely fantastic!).
Once the wine seems to have been absorbed into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock. At this stage I like to add half my mushrooms, roughly chopped.
Turn down the heat to a simmer and gradually add a ladleful of stock at a time, stirring and allowing each ladleful to absorb into the rice before adding the next. It’s important that you don’t cook the rice too quickly (i.e. on a fast boil), otherwise the outside of the rice will be cooked and fluffy and the inside will be raw! After around 15 minutes or so the rice will be ready. However, I suggest that after about 13 minutes you should keep tasting your rice every couple of minutes to check if it’s cooked as this is not an exact science and it’s really important that you don’t under- or overcook the rice. You want the rice to be soft but with a slight bite.
Once you’re confident your rice is cooked add the rest of the mushrooms and let them warm through. Check the seasoning and consistency. You want the risotto to be thick but not stodgy; there should still be some movement. I do the spoon test: if you draw your spoon across the bottom of the pan, the rice grains should slowly merge back together in the spoon’s wake. If the rice grains reform immediately then it’s probably too thin.If the grains come back together really slowly (or not at all) then it’s definitely too thick!!
Take the pot off the heat and add a few knobs of butter and a couple of handfuls of parmasan and put the lid on for a couple of minutes. Once the butter and parmasan have melted, give your risotto a gentle stir and serve immediately. It’s great with a simple salad or some crusty bread (or both).
Before I go, I just have to shout out to the ultimate fun guy (get it, mushrooms, “funghi”? Yes?): Martin Fisher. See you soon Miles Standish. xxx