Risotto ai funghi

Of all the foods in the Culinary Kingdom, perhaps no food gets as bad a reputation as the mushroom. Think about it; the mushroom, after all, is a food quite often appears on the typical Things-I-Don't-Eat list, up there with brussel sprouts and broccoli, anchovies and mayonnaise. If I'm playing devil's advocate here, I kind of get it -- for starters, mushrooms certainly aren't the prettiest of foods, usually arriving to you au naturel and covered in dirt; once they're dirt-free off, they're not much to look at, either, all whiteish or grayish and brownish, miles away from the dashingly orange carrot or the scarlet bell pepper. If not cooked well, the mushroom can end up a little slimy, a little shiny, and a little tough, and, perhaps the biggest strike of all, the damning nail in the coffin for all mushroom naysayers: mushrooms are, erm, a fungus, a small detail that doesn't exactly do them any favors (side note: the Italians are far more upfront about this, calling them funghi, which means yes, fungi). In short the mushroom is not, upon first glance, the most alluring or attractive of foods. I get it!

Or is it?! If you can get past the not-so-gorgeous looks and questionable cultivation, mushrooms have a lot going for them. For starters, they've got staying power (they date alllll the way back to Ancient Rome and Greece, where they were enjoyed by the upper class) and they've got lots of range, too; there's the oh-so-precious truffle, the pricey, fairy toadstool-like porcino, the unruly shiitake, and the humble, ever-so-popular button mushroom, among many others. Their meaty texture and rich flavor make them the answer to every vegetarian's prayers, where a juicy portobello cap gracefully steps in to replace a hamburger patty on a veg-friendly burger, or takes the place the place of the beef in a ragu' or a bourguignonThey're nutritious, rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, and they're one of the most versatile of ingredients I've come across, as at home tangled into tagliatelle as they are blended into a soup, excellent tucked into crepes, stuffed with breadcrumbs and baked, or heaped on top of a steak, not to mention lovely paired with parsley or thyme or sage or rosemary. Not too bad for a humble fungus, right?! 

(Can you tell that mushrooms are not on my Things-I-Don't-Like List? Go Team Mushroom!!)

But I digress! Mushrooms are also superb when cast in the role of risotto -- I know, I know, just when you thought the mushroom couldn't wear any more hats -- which brings us to this risotto ai funghi, or risotto with mushrooms, aka the-perfect-Fall-meal. It's a dish that manages to be both cozy and comforting yet still elegant and luxurious, filled with a double dose of of earthy, hearty mushrooms (both porcini and button) grated Parmesan cheese that's gone melty, and an edge of butter (the combination of these last two embody the Italian verb mantecare, which seems to have been created just to describe the addition of butter and cheese to risotto, something I find delightful). The whole thing is brightened up and balanced out thanks to a sprinkle of emerald green parsley -- often an after thought but in this case a must -- which adds a little brightness and color to the finished dish. Last but not least: don't let risotto fool you! I feel it has a bit of a reputation as being difficult, and I'm not sure where that came from. It's tedious yes, but tricky no, really just a matter of sauteing and then some stirring, a dish that therefore easily steps in to the role of both weeknight dinner and dinner party. Hurray!

A couple of notes: When cleaning your mushrooms, be sure to wipe away any dirt with a damp dish towel; exposing the mushrooms to too much water will make them soggy and tasteless. The rule with risotto is to eat it immediately, but truth be told, I've found it reheats just fine with a little extra broth stirred in over the stove. Any cold risotto could also be used to make suppli', if you're feeling ambitious. 

Looking for other mushroom recipes? I've got this polenta ai funghi and this pasta con funghi porcini e zucca. Looking for more risotto recipes? I've got this risotto with fennel and lemon, this risotto with pancetta and peas, and this one here with butternut squash, not to mention these suppli' all'amatriciana


10 ounces (280 grams) of arborio rice
1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup (115 mL) white wine
12 ounces (350 grams) of white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 an ounce (15 grams) dried porcini mushrooms 
1 clove garlic
5-6 cups (about 1.5 liters) vegetable broth    
2 tablespoons (25 grams) unsalted butter 
4 tablespoons (25 grams) freshly grated Parmesan
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

First things first -- place your dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover them with hot water. Set aside. In the meantime, as your porcini are coming back to life, heat up a little olive oil (enough to generously coat a frying pan) and add the fresh sliced mushrooms and the clove of garlic. Stir everything around and cook until the mushrooms begin to soften and brown. At this point, your porcini mushrooms should be softened. Drain them and chop them finely, then add them to the pan. Cook all the mushrooms together until they are softened and browned and the water is evaporated. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper and stir in some parsley to taste. Set aside.

Put a pot on to the stove and pour in the vegetable broth. Bring the broth to a very gentle simmer or low heat. In the meantime, in a larger pan, heat up a bit more olive oil and add the chopped onion. Cook the onion until it is softened and translucent, and then add the rice. Stir to coat the rice with the onion and oil. Add the white wine and let it cook off, about 5 minutes. 

Next, once the wine is evaporates, start adding the broth a little at a time, ladling it in gradually and stirring as the broth is gradually absorbed. Continue this way, stirring, and about 10 minutes in to the cooking, stir in the mushroom/parsley mixture. Continue stirring the broth in until the rice is tender and cooked through. Add the Parmesan and butter and stir vigorously. Taste the risotto for seasoning and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Serve with extra parsley sprinkled on top and a little extra cheese if you want and dig in. Serves 4.

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