I’ll be honest with you – neither mushrooms nor rice has ever been on any craving shortlist of mine. That being said, I’ve always felt this desire to master an authentic Italian risotto dish and so after unearthing (literally I wish) a selection of exotic mushrooms at my local Woolworths I decided that that coupled with the wintery weather Cape Town is currently experiencing made the perfect excuse to give risotto a bash.
Thus after consulting from my collection of Jamie Oliver recipe books, I deduced that any mushroom risotto worth it’s Maldon salt would need to contain the following:
- a good homemade chicken stock
- arborio rice (Italian short-grain or “risotto” rice)
- a mix of different Italian mushrooms – NO button mushrooms
- Parmesan cheese is risotto’s best friend – use it in abundance but make sure you’ve got the real deal.
Consisting of a medley of mushrooms like shiitake, king oyster and shimeji, my version of his classic Mushroom Risotto would be redolent of fresh thyme and have same consistency as a creamy rice pudding. Well that’s how I like my risotto. The key here is flavour – which is why Jamie warns against using button mushrooms – they might be meaty in consistency but offer little in taste. However, if your budget only allows for a few exotic varietals of mushroom then by all means pad out your risotto base with button. On the same topic, don’t omit the idea of using dried mushrooms such as porcini as their flavour is concentrated and the liquid you use to reconstitute them in can double as a vegetarian-friendly stock with which to cook your rice with.
Another crucial detail to making a delicious Mushroom Risotto is time. Don’t attempt to make this dish in a rush as it won’t work. One of the most definitively hygge dishes around, risotto needs a lot of attention and a gentle hand. Since standing over a stove stirring a pot might not seem all that appealing to some, there is something to be said about the mindful and cognisant cooking of food that does wonders not only for the taste but also for your overall enjoyment of the meal as a whole. So when it’s chilly outside, light a fire in the grate (or pop on the heater), pour yourself a glass of the same wine that you’ll be using in the risotto and settle in for an afternoon of cooking for your soul as much as for your stomach. Invite your closest friends over, set your table beautifully, light candles and put on your favourite playlist. This is the kind of therapy that still affords you the financial wherewithal to buy that pair of leather boots at the end of the month.
Prep time: 20mins / Cook time: 40mins / Serves: 6 to 8
You will need:
- 300g fresh exotic mushrooms
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 small cloves of garlic, peeled
- a tablespoon of salted butter
- coarse ground sea salt and black pepper
- 250ml of dry white wine (I used Esona 2014 Sauvignon Blanc)
- a litre of homemade chicken stock
- 1 chicken stock cube (optional – only use if your stock’s flavour isn’t all that strong)
- 2 cups (500ml) of arborio rice, rinsed to get rid of any excess starch
- 2 to 3 litres of water
- a 200g wedge of Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- extra virgin olive oil
- crème fraîche, to serve
In a frying pan over medium heat, gently cook up the onions in the butter until they are soft, translucent and dreamily shiny. Reduce the heat and strip the thyme leaves from the stalks, adding them to the onions and following with the crushed garlic cloves. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper. Finally, increase the heat and add in the white wine. Allow the mixture to reduce before removing from the heat, placing them into a heatproof bowl and setting aside. Roughly chop up about half of the mushrooms, reserving the best-looking ones to garnish the finished dish with. In the same pan that you fried the onions in, gently brown the chopped mushrooms in a little butter. When just cooked, remove them from the heat and mix in with the onions. Keep warm in an oven on low (110°C ) for now.
Now here’s the part where you need that extra glass of wine for yourself. Place the rinsed rice into a large pot and cover with the chicken stock. Set over medium heat and slowly stir the rice until all of the stock has been absorbed. Add in the water, a litre at a time, and stir until it has been absorbed too. To check that your rice is cooked, simply press a grain between your thumb and forefinger – if it has slight give before squashing, then it is ready. The whole process will take about 25 minutes. Season the rice with a little salt before transferring the mushroom-onion mixture into the pot along with the rice and the grated Parmesan cheese (keeping a little extra to garnish) and mixing gently to combine. Keeping your risotto warm, fry up the remaining mushrooms whole in a little butter.
To serve, divide the risotto into four to eight warmed ceramic bowls and top them with the whole fried mushrooms. Finish off the dish with a sprinkling of the leftover grated Parmesan, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a dollop of crème fraîche and a grinding of black pepper. The risotto is ready to eat immediately and I highly recommend that you pair it with Esona’s excellent 2013 Shiraz.