My Pop’s Mushroom Risotto

I think the first time I ever had risotto was at my friend Charlotte’s house and I must have been about 15. Never once had I come across this dish within the bosom of my own, otherwise very ‘foody’ family. Actually I’ll retract that – we did get something called risotto a couple of times for tea but it definitely wasn’t the same thing – basmati rice with peas and chopped up bits of bacon in it does not count as proper risotto.

So about 5 years ago my Pop suddenly ‘discovered’ risotto and since then has ordered it every time he has seen it on the menu in a restaurant and has hailed it as one of the great mysteries of the culinary world. I should clarify at this point that my father is a good cook. An extremely good cook in fact. But it wasn’t until Sunday night last weekend that he attempted his first risotto. Not only did me and every one of my siblings get a phone call to announce that this monumental event was going to take place but most of us got one while he was cooking as well: “I’ve been stirring the bloody thing for 20 minutes and the rice STILL isn’t cooked”. “Yes Pop, it does take about 35 minutes of constant stirring to make risotto.” “WHAT!! I’m not going to stand here stirring for THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES!!” But he did, and having been treated to the (much calmer) second attempt on Saturday night this weekend, it was well worth the effort… 

(Enough for 6)

  • 30g porcini mushrooms
  • 675g regular mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • a couple of handfuls of parsley
  • 75g butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 500g arborio rice
  • 1.5 litres chicken stock (preferably fresh rather than a cube)
  • 75ml dry white Vermouth
  • 100g Parmesan cheese, grated

Soak the porcini in a bowl of boiling water for half an hour until soft. Reserve the water. Meanwhile cook the regular mushrooms on quite a high heat for a good 20mins or so until they become almost black and very well cooked. Remove from the pan and keep warm. In this same pan cook the porcini and the garlic until the porcini are soft and the garlic is golden. At this point put the other cooked mushrooms back in the pan and add salt and pepper, the lemon juice and the parsley. Set aside and keep warm.

In a very large pan fry the onions slowly in the butter for about 15mins. When they are golden and soft add the rice to the onions and stir for a couple of minutes making sure the rice is properly coated in the oil. Heat the stock and porcini juice – this is important as cold stock will not absorb quickly enough into the rice. Once hot, and over a low heat, slowly start to add the stock to the rice and onions, a bit at a time, making sure it is well absorbed before adding more. Treat the leftover porcini water in the same way and add it little by little. The key with this is to stir often but DON’T STIR TOO MUCH or it will become stodgy.

Once all the stock is absorbed and when the rice is all but cooked add the mushroom and parsley mixture back into the pan. Add the Vermouth and Parmesan and stir well together. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve immediately on warm plates with extra parmesan and a simple green salad on the side.

I have to admit that I hate cooking risotto (so much stirring and I seem to miss out on that feeling of satisfaction I’ve been told that most people get afterwards, just ending up rather annoyed that I’ve had to work so hard for my supper) but when you get a good one you remember how worth the effort it is. And this was really really good.

A cracking second attempt Pop! And made all the better that I didn’t have to cook it myself.

It may seem odd matching a vegetarian dish to red wine but there is something about the wild, earthiness of mushrooms and herbs that needs something red, fruity and a little bit spicy. Try not to go too overboard on the tannins in your red wine; you want fruit, a fair amount of body, but something quite velvety and smooth with a hint of spice. A good quality Merlot would have worked well here (don’t bother with the cheap stuff), or a New World Pinot Noir. We had the Gestos Malbec which I ordinarily would have thought would be too much for the dish; as it turns out this is a relatively soft Malbec with just the right amount of fruit and spice to make it altogether a very, very good supper.

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