Less tang, more character: Mushroom risotto


When I was but a wee whippersnapper and newbie to the world of cooking, the first “complex” dish I undertook was risotto. This was right after Jamie Oliver’s first cookbook came out, and people were starting to figure out that you could actually make this crazy stuff at home! Of course, with that knowledge came plenty of grousing, largely about how tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime consuming it was, how teeeeeeemperameeeeeeeeental it was. You know the drill. Naturally, this wave of petulance and frustration attracted me to the dish like nothing else (you may have noticed a behavioral pattern here): it was hard, which meant I had to master it! Of course.

The part that confused me: it wasn’t that hard at all. It wasn’t that persnickety. Yes, it was time consuming, yes it required a certain amount of my attention. But as I discovered (to my extreme surprise), risotto is ultimately a pretty simple basic formula (rice, liquid, patience), which you can then dress up any way you like. The first risotto I made featured goat’s cheese and dried cranberries; since then, I’ve come up with several lovely variations that I pull out on various occasions, including the mushroom variety I whipped out the other day at dinner for our lovely friend Claire.


I’m particularly fond of this risotto because it is so light–the original recipe doesn’t even call for any cheese (though, really. Like I’m going to skip the cheese. Come on. But it can be done!)–but so incredibly flavorful that it feels terribly indulgent. I am inclined to credit the inclusion of the liquid trifecta (a combination of marsala or madeira, white wine, and stock) that is used to pull out the creamy starch in the rice; it’s unexpected and subtle, but adds a certain sweetness (as do the peas) that complements the meatiness of the mushrooms.

I won’t lie: you do need to be kind of vigilant. To get the right consistency, you will need to stand at your stovetop for 40 minutes or so, gently massaging the starch out of the rice (emphasis on gently) and plying it with liquid. But, it’s not a complicated endeavor–you can quite merrily drink wine and chat with guests while you do it, as it won’t really require a great deal of concentrated focus. Your guests, however, will not need to know that. I encourage you heartily to let them think that you are, in fact, the most brilliant multitasking chef-host-genius ever to walk the earth. No one will dare question your bold statement once they taste this stuff.

Mushroom Risotto

1c arborio rice
2 large portobello caps, cut into pieces 1/2″x1/2″
6oz shiitake mushrooms (stems removed and reserved), coarsely chopped
6oz white button mushrooms (stems removed and reserved), finely chopped
2 shallots, chopped fine
1c frozen peas
1 head garlic (roasted and pureed)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2c grated parmesan cheese

1c marsala wine
1c white wine
2-3c stock (ideally, a combination of mushroom–which you can make by simmering the stems you reserved above in some water–and chicken)

  1. Saute the mushrooms in 1 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp butter on medium-low heat until reduced in size by approx 2/3. Deglaze pan with slug of marsala wine, set liquid aside.
  2. Saute the shallot in remaining butter and oil (and some salt) until shallots are golden
  3. Add rice, stir until coated with oil and translucent (about 1 min)
  4. Turn up heat to medium, add 1c of the stock and stir until all absorbed.
  5. Add the cooked mushrooms and garlic puree.
  6. Add the remaining stock and wine, 1 cup at a time, until the rice is soft and creamy.
  7. Add peas and cheese. Cover and set aside for 10 mins or so. Serve with a shaving of parmesan on top.
In marsala, mushrooms, risotto, winter

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