Two of my favorite things are risotto and porcini mushrooms. Put the two together and you get close to gastronomic nirvana. The porcini mushroom, Boletus edulis is a fairly common European wild mushroom, with a deep earthy flavour. They are a little hard to find fresh and can be pretty expensive as well, but as dried mushrooms they are easy to procure and not too pricey.
Risotto seems to bother a lot of home cooks, which is a shame as it is so easy to make and the best risotti are almost always found at home. Most restaurants pre-cook their risotti and reheat to serve. If you get your risotto in a restaurant in less than 15 minutes, you can be sure that is the case.
What makes risotto so easy is the methodical preparation. Once you get the hang of stirring and adding stock you will find it quite relaxing, especially with a nice glass of wine in hand and Thelonious Monk on the stereo. And stir you will. That is one of the secrets to a good risotto.
A true risotto is made from one of three Italian rices: Arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano. What these three have in common is a high starch content that is further released by stirring. Any risotto recipe that asks you to add stock and stir it just a little is not up to scratch, you need to stir constantly.
If you are going to do this properly, make you own chicken stock as well. It takes 10 minutes to get together and the rest is simmering. You will be repaid many times over when you taste the result.
If you find porcini hard to locate, just substitute sliced field mushrooms instead. Sauté them in a little butter before you start the risotto so they are ready to add at the end. Do as heyoka does and add any wonderful mushroomy juices to the risotto as well. It’s all flavour.
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs butter
250 gm Arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano rice.
1/2 cup (125 ml) dry white wine
3 cups (750 ml) chicken stock
1 leek, sliced into 1 cm rounds
50 gm dried porcini mushrooms
1 Tbs butter, extra
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese, grated (or use parmesan)
Freshly ground black pepper
Finely dice the onion and mince the garlic. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 1 cup of warm water and set aside. Place the chicken stock into a saucepan and bring to the gentlest of simmers. Melt the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy based sauté pan or saucepan. Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat for several minutes; until they are soft and smell wonderful, but not browned. Add the unwashed rice and stir into the onion butter mixture. Cook at medium heat, stirring until the rice has gone a little translucent and has a visible white center to each grain. This will take 2-3 minutes.
Add the wine and stir well. It will bubble and absorb very rapidly, so be ready to add some stock. As soon as the rice is drying up and there is no extraneous liquid remaining, add a large ladle of warm chicken stock and stir religiously. Repeat this process twice, which should take around 7 or 8 minutes. If you find yourself adding stock every minute or so, the heat is too high and will need to be turned down. You want a nice gently bubble.
After the third addition of stock, add the leeks, porcini and a little of the mushroom soaking liquid. Continue stirring and adding stock until the rice is cooked, about 18 minutes in total. What you are looking for of course is al dente. Each grain should have the slightest resistance as you bite into it. If you feel the rice is crunchy this is not al dente, this is raw. Keep cooking.
Add generous amounts of salt and pepper and cook the risotto until it is halfway between a solid and a liquid. It should not sit in a lump on the plate, nor should it be soupy. A perfect risotto will ever so gently settle onto the plate. Add half the cheese and remaining butter, stir thoroughly and divide immediately between 4 warm plates. Pass the remaining cheese and cracked pepper separately.
This is quite a rich risotto, so serve with a fully bodied, yet lightly wooded chardonnay or an aged semillon. The earthy nature of the porcini would also be perfect with a pinot noir.