It might not seem an ambitious start, but there’s something to be said for mastering the art of making a good risotto – I’ve had enough mushy/stodgy/flavourless incarnations over the years to realise that although the constituent parts may be simple, this is a dish that can be sensational in the right hands. So I put my faith in Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ this time round, looking to their classic River Cafe cookbook (Book Two to be precise) for inspiration.
Now I’ve produced industrial quantities of mushroom risotto over the years (handily, it gets even better a day or two after cooking, making it ideal lunchbox fodder) but I figure these two doyens of Mediterranean cuisine can spruce up my tried-and-tested process.
To make something this simple a knock-out, it’s all about the quality of your ingredients – in this case that really means splashing out on a good mix of wild mushrooms rather than just grabbing a box of the bland supermarket button variety. This recipe recommends 750g of porcini, girolles, chanterelles and trompettes de mort, plus 60g of dried porcini (pre-soak in hot water, strain and reserve the liquid) for an extra intense hit of ‘shroomy flavour.
Once you’ve cleaned, drained and dried your mushrooms – using a pastry brush on the more delicate porcini and girolles to brush away any earth – tear them into bitesize pieces. Next heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a heavy-based saucepan until its smoking and add the mushrooms in small batches.
Allow these to cook through for a few minutes before adding 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes.
In a separate pan heat 75g unsalted butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add 1 chopped red onion and cook on a low heat until translucent (be very careful not to rush it so the onions brown; you want them soft and pale).
Add the rest of the garlic to this pan along with the pre-soaked dried porcini. Cook for one minute. Add 300g aroborio rice and stir so al the grains are evenly coated in the oil. Wait a couple of minutes before adding your stock, as this will ensure the rice retains a bit of bite. Then start to add the stock (you’ll need about 750ml in total) a ladleful at a time, waiting for each dose to be fully absorbed before adding another. Rose and Ruth don’t mention using any wine in their recipe, but this is an anathema to me so I alternated the stock with a few generous glugs of white plonk. You can also add your strained porcini liquid at this stage too.
Risotto is certainly a rather high maintenance dish. Get distracted for 10 minutes and you”ll return to find a dried out pan with rice burnt onto the base. Standing by to top up the liquid levels and stir as it simmers on a very low heat, may try your patience but it’s also oddly therapeutic.
When your rice is (finally) al dente, which usually takes 25-30 minutes, season if needed and sprinkle on the cooked wild mushroom mixture. I’ve always cooked the mushrooms in with my risotto, adding them to the main pan after the onions, but after trying the River Cafe version I’ve realised that mixing them in at the end instead means they retain their firm texture and intense flavour, rather than just mushing in with the rest of the mixture.
Stir through with a swirl of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a big handful of chopped parsley, then top with a mound of Parmesan and you’re good to go. Bon appetito.