Unlike the woman in the clip above (a favourite scene from the classic movie “Big Night”) I love Italian cuisine, especially risotto, the creamy rice dish that is both comforting and elegant at the same time. Mushroom risotto is my absolute favourite and I like to use a variety of mushrooms when I make it. Forget button mushrooms, I go for the wild mushroom selection at Fiesta Farms. They offer an ever changing choice of chanterelles, hen of the woods, cinnamon cap, yellow foot and black trumpet mushrooms when they are in season. I asked Sergio Da Silva, the produce manager, which mushroom he recommends for use in risotto. “The best mushroom for making a risotto that we have in store right now is the yellow foot, it is related to the chanterelle, which is another favourite for risotto.” Did you know that mushrooms are high in Vitamin D? Just the thing we need when the sky starts to grow dark at 5pm.
So that settles the mushroom issue, now we must turn our attention to the rice.
Typically risotto is made with a short-grained rice like arborio, named after the town of Arborio in the Po Valley, Italy, where it is grown. The short, rounded Arborio rice has a higher starch content than most long-grained rice, and it is this starch which is released during the slow cooking process, combining with the stock to develop a creamy “sauce”. It is this creamy texture that also makes arborio a favourite for rice pudding. When properly cooked, the grains themselves are slightly chewy, al dente, firm but tender, and still possess a degree of integrity; the rice should not be cooked to a mushy slurry. Some of our favourite arborio rice brands are Paese Mio, Karnak and Lundberg.
Rice is one of the most important staple grains in the world, second to corn in annual production worldwide, and supplying one fifth of the calories consumed by humans. And Arborio rice is not just an “empty extra”; one of the healthier types of rice, it contains 9 g of protein per cup, over twice the amount than long-grain rice. Arborio rice is also a good source of calcium, with one cup providing 45% of your daily needs. It is also a pretty good source of Vitamins A (12%) and C (6%). It is high in carbs, with one cup providing 117g of carbohydrate. Don’t automatically go into anti-carbs mode once you’ve read that – carbs are good for you and they are especially delightful in the wintertime. Embrace carbs!
“In risotto, liquid is added to the rice in small doses, and the rice is stirred constantly…Italians have their risotto at the main meal, usually the mid-day meal. If they are making rice for guests, it will be a risotto, not boiled rice. They would be most likely to order boiled rice at a restaurant…Where risotto is rich and important, boiled rice is spare and casual, demanding far less energy to make and to consume…”-Marcella Hazan, M
Here is my favourite recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart’s. Let me know in the comments if you agree or if you have a better one. If you’re not totally confident about the technique, watch Gennaro Contaldo and Jamie Oliver show you how in this video where they whip up a divine version of mushroom risotto.
- 6 to 8 cups homemade or canned chicken stock
- 1/4 ounce dried wild mushrooms
- 9 ounces assorted fresh wild mushrooms
- 7 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 4 to 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat stock in pan over medium heat. Add dried mushrooms; cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon; chop finely. Keep stock at a simmer over medium heat.
- Remove stems from fresh mushrooms; chop finely. Slice caps 1/4 inch thick. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add mushroom caps; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. Transfer to bowl. To pan, add remaining 6 tablespoons oil, mushroom stems, and shallots. Cook, stirring, until translucent. Add rice; cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes. Let the rice get a little toasty.
- Add wine. Cook, stirring, until wine is absorbed by rice. Add a ladleful of hot stock to rice. Keep stirring. When rice has absorbed most but not all of liquid and mixture is just thick enough to leave a clear wake behind the spoon when stirring, add another 3/4 cup stock.
- Continue adding stock in this manner, stirring constantly, until rice is mostly translucent but still opaque in center. Continue cooking until rice is al dente, but not crunchy. As rice nears doneness, watch carefully; add smaller amounts of liquid. The mixture should be thick enough that grains are suspended in liquid the consistency of heavy cream. The risotto will thicken slightly when removed from heat.
- Add dried mushrooms and sauteéd mushroom caps. Stir in butter and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Divide among four bowls; grate Parmesan over risotto. Serve immediately with more grated Parmesan on the side.