I’ve been more than a little busy this week, and more days than not out and about for dinner (went to a wonderful Indonesian restaurant one day though, well worth the trip, fresh, spicy and authentic, yum). The days when I have been around, throwing together anything more than a baked potato hasn’t been high on my list of priorities but I did make this delicious mushroom risotto one evening. Now if you’re someone who has mistakenly been persuaded that risottos are time-consuming I will tell you now; it’s all a big, fat lie. They take half an hour to make, agreed, but you do not have to spend that half hour at the stove, stirring them religiously every 2 minutes for 10 strokes clockwise, and 5 strokes anticlockwise like some kind of magic potion. In fact you don’t even have to measure out your stock, drop by drop, to ensure you get the perfect consistency. In my experience risottos are very much a “leave ’em to it” dish, and they have never gone far wrong for me yet.
Mushroom risotto. I have to admit, it is not the most photogenic of dishes, my terrible photo-taking skills aside. In fact, it must rank up there with buckwheat porridge, polenta, and pretty much every other neutral-coloured, gloopy dish you can think of in terms of beauty. But this dish isn’t about appearance. Unless you’re planning on serving this in a michelin-starred restaurant (and I have no idea how you would “elevate this to a fine dining level”, as Michel Roux Jr loves to say), then accept it will look grey and gloopy. Taste is what is key here, followed closely by texture.
The key ingredient for this dish is some very tasty mushrooms. Button mushrooms and, even worse, field mushrooms, tend towards awful blandness and won’t give you a great flavour. I used half a packet of dried, lightly seasoned mushrooms I had been brought from Italy as a gift (fancy pasta shapes not really being my thang). I might go so far as to say that dried mushrooms are in fact preferable to fresh, since the water you soak them in to plump them up before use can be used to really ramp up the flavour in the risotto. In fact mine were so full of flavour that I didn’t use stock, but just topped up the liquid with boiling water instead.
I like the addition of a little sprinkle of truffle salt in this risotto. It adds a depth of flavour and little touch of luxury, not to mention it pairs exceedingly well with mushrooms, unsurprisingly. Unlike whole truffles, truffle salt isn’t overly expensive. It’s a small jar of salt with tiny pieces of truffle in it, and the aroma is quite overpowering (I keep mine triple-wrapped under a heavy tray at the back of a cupboard); a little goes a very long way. It also lasts pretty much forever; I’m happily ignoring the six-month expiry date on mine; whoever heard of salt, and dried fungus expiring? Sounds like a con to make gullible customers buy more to me, though rest assured, if it does turn blue, you shall be the first to know.
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
50g dried mushrooms
2/3 cup (~150g) risotto (arborio) rice
Approximately 1 litre stock/hot water
1 tablespoon dried red peppers
Couple of sprigs of thyme
Large handful (~50g) fresh mushrooms, I used button simply because they were lurking in my cupboard and needed using up
Tablespoon parmesan cheese and more for serving
Truffle salt, if you have it, for garnish/seasoning
1. Soak the dried mushrooms in a small bowl of warm water for 10 minutes or so, until plumped.
2. In a medium saucepan lightly brown the shallots and garlic in a splash of oil.
3. Add the risotto rice, and stir so all the grains are very lightly coated in oil.
4. Add the mushrooms and their soaking water and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the red peppers, thyme leaves and season. Once simmering pour in a cup or so (250ml) of water or stock and leave to gently bubble. After about 10 minutes give it a stir, check the grains aren’t sticking to the bottom, and since the rice should have absorbed most of the liquid by then add another cup of liquid.
5. Stir the rice periodically and add more liquid as it needs. After about 20 minutes stir in the fresh mushrooms and a little more liquid if necessary. Leave to simmer for another few minutes then test the rice. It should be soft and creamy with a slight bite to each grain.
6. When cooked stir in the parmesan and a little truffle salt. Serve with more parmesan on top and a final light sprinkle of truffle salt.
Serves 3. Leftovers can be reheated the next day in the microwave or on the stove. Make sure you add a couple of tablespoons of water before reheating as the risotto will be a touch on the dry side otherwise.