Fewer dishes are more misunderstood than risotto. For many, this iconic northern Italian rice dish has a reputation of being stodgy, time-consuming and tedious. Sounds great, right?
Of course, those of us who have had the pleasure of enjoying well-prepared risotto know better. Done right, risotto is creamy and saucy, not soupy or watery. The sauce should be thick enough to suspend the kernels of rice and spread nicely when spooned onto a plate, but it should never be heavy or clumpy.
While traditional preparations call for adding stock to the rice in small increments and stirring constantly until the liquid has evaporated and the next ladleful is added, more modern methods call for adding the liquid in larger amounts and stirring toward the end of the cooking process to get the necessary creaminess.
Rice, being delicate and neutral in flavor, can be the perfect vehicle for highlighting any number of other ingredients. This week, with a Minnesota fall crispness in the air, mushrooms felt like the perfect choice.
Building the mushroom flavor starts with rehydrating dried porcini mushrooms. Porcinis have a rich meatiness that packs a huge umami punch and we don’t waste a drop of it, which is why we incorporate both the mushrooms and the soaking liquid into the risotto.
In addition to the porcinis, cremini or baby portobello mushrooms are also used. I like to roast them first, to intensify their flavor and give them a satisfyingly chewy texture. While the porcinis are added at the beginning of the cooking process, allowing their texture to soften and their flavor to infuse the dish, the creminis are added toward the end, studding the risotto with little bites of mushroom joy.
When the rice has cooked just long enough to be tender, but not mushy — it should still have an al dente feel — Parmigiano-Reggiano (the good stuff) and a little butter are emulsified into the saucy rice, making it even creamier and more luscious.
A perfect risotto doesn’t really need anything else on the plate, but if you’re so inclined, something simple, like roasted pork or chicken, would be lovely.
Roasted Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish.
Note: The combination of porcini and roasted cremini mushrooms gives this luxurious risotto a serious hit of umami. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 lb. sliced cremini or baby portobello mushrooms
• 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 1/4 tsp. salt, divided
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
• 2 c. homemade or low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
• 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
• 1/2 c. finely chopped shallots
• 2 c. Arborio rice
• 1/2 c. dry white wine
• 1/3 c. grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
• 2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley, for serving
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large, rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine fresh mushrooms, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Arrange mushrooms on the prepared baking sheet. Roast mushrooms for 25 to 30 minutes, until they’re browned. Set aside.
Meanwhile, rinse away any grit from porcini mushrooms and soak in 2 cups of hot water for 20 minutes. Lift the porcini mushrooms out of the water and finely chop. Pour mushroom water through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove any remaining grit.
In a large measuring cup, combine the porcini soaking liquid and stock, and add enough water to make 5 cups of liquid.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the rice and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the grains are translucent around the edges. The shallots and rice should not brown.
Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of the mushroom/broth mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. Continue to add liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed. Cook, stirring, about 8 to 10 minutes more, until rice is creamy and slightly al dente (use water if you run out of mushroom liquid).
Remove from heat and vigorously stir in the Parmesan cheese, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and three-quarters of the roasted mushrooms. (The vigorous stirring helps to give the risotto creaminess.) Season with more salt if necessary. Divide among 4 serving bowls. Scatter remaining mushrooms and chopped parsley over the top and serve with more Parmesan cheese on the side.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.