Warm and rich. Simple, slow and rhythmic. A dish that can be equally impressive when studded with goodies, such as mushrooms, or in its classic preparation. Risotto is an Italian dish originating from Northern Italy that stirs strong feelings in diners around the world for being both straightforward and complex. Interestingly, rice such as Arborio dates back to antiquity, but it was a peasant dish, at best. According to one of my favorite Italian food resources on my kitchen book shelf, “Italy: The Country and its Cuisine,” Spaniards brought it to wealthy Naples during the Renaissance, where it found its way to regions of Italy with ample pure spring water, which are ideal for growing rice. It increased in popularity as its production soared in Piedmont, Lombardy and Tuscany. Today, we enjoy risotto’s appearance on the menu of any Italian restaurant worth its salt.
Every risotto starts with a soffritto, namely onions or shallots or garlic, gently sautéed in olive oil or butter, prior to adding other ingredients (pancetta, vegetables, etc.), and eventually, the rice. Once the rice is coated with the butter (my preference) or oil, the pan is deglazed with wine. Hot stock or other liquid is added in small doses from here, with constant stirring as its steady beat throughout each round. Every traditional risotto recipe will have a variance of this method preparation at its core.
My husband and I have a bit of a standing joke when it comes to preparing risotto. He loves it (and so do I), but I always remind him that the excessive stirring involved gives me a sore arm if I’m not in tip top shape at the time of preparation! Honestly, if you’ve never made it, think of it as getting in a little workout while you’re making dinner — which isn’t a bad thing, right? And the fact that you end up with a gorgeous pot of goodness at the end of the session makes the small ordeal completely worth it.
Many mushroom risotto recipes call for dried and fresh mushrooms, but I couldn’t consistently find dried mushrooms I liked, so a few years back I adapted my old recipe from “Joy of Cooking” to a version without dried mushrooms, and I’ve been making it regularly ever since. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms, sliced — I opt for a blend of shiitakes, baby bellas and crimini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots, minced
- 10 cups hot chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon butter (for finishing)
- 1 cup minced onion
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt and pepper
- In a large pan or small stock pot, heat chicken broth; maintain at a simmer.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add the mushrooms and shallots. Cook until lightly browned. Set aside.
- Over medium-low heat, melt butter in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent but not browned.
- Stir in rice and continue to stir until it is thoroughly coated and almost entirely opaque, about 3-5 minutes. Add wine and stir until absorbed.
- Add the chicken stock 1 cup at a time, waiting for each cup to be absorbed before adding the next. Stir continuously and maintain a simmer.
- As you stir in each cup of stock, watch the texture of the risotto and the appearance of the entire pot. The risotto is ready when the rice is tender, but still firm; it should be creamy and not stiff.
- Fold the mushrooms into the risotto for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
- Fold in cheese and remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper.
Note that many risotto recipes, beginning with the archetypal Milanese, feature saffron and start with the addition of saffron threads to the broth. It wasn’t overlooked here — this is one risotto that doesn’t include that classic element.
This dish makes a hearty and satisfying one pot main course for vegetarians and meat lovers alike, or prepare it as a decadent side for braised meats, especially poultry or game. This is a great recipe to keep handy for entertaining because it’s an impressive one for serving to guests throughout the holiday season.
Perhaps most importantly, this recipe is also a special one for your personal arsenal, as it’s possible your significant other will love it as much as mine does.