Ah risotto. Siiiiiiiigggghhhhh. I’d say this is one of those dishes every budding home chef ate at a restaurant or saw Mario make on tv and said to themselves “I have to learn how to make this!” Risotto’s not quite the Holy Grail of home cookery but I’d say it’s one of the top adventures on the quest. And like Percival, you might be forever searching. (Oh man is Cheryl going to roll her eyes and shake her head at that obscure Arthurian/Grail legend reference.) You try and try and try to get this one right every time and feel so good when it all works out but a little disheartened when something goes wrong. I love making this at home and instead of King Arthur, I’ve got Molto Mario to thank for it.
When the Food Network came to cable tv in the 90s a whole new world opened up for me. There were so many things I’d never tasted being made with ingredients I’d never heard of. I was amazed at what was being made on shows like Taste (David Rosengarten), Molto Mario (he’s cooking in his clogs!), Two Hot Tamales (Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger ), and Grillin and Chillin (Bobby Flay). The show which really hooked me was Molto Mario. A lot of the other shows (especially Taste) used some pretty exotic stuff you just didn’t see in the grocery stores back then. Mario on the other hand, used a lot of simple ingredients you could readily find. For someone like me just starting to cook on my own it was great. One of the things he taught me about was risotto.
Way before there was tivo and internet you had to try to scribble down recipes as the hosts made them. I know I’ve got a couple of recipes still floating around in a folder that are jotted on some of that old printer paper with the holes on the side. Anyway, risotto was something I’d never seen or eaten, but the way it was talked about and the ease with which it was prepared (at least on tv) was enough to make a fan of me. One Christmas I received a Molto Mario cookbook, I think it’s his first one, and this became my new best friend. I still use it on occasion. Of course the risotto recipes in the book were tackled first and so here I am almost 20 years later still trying to perfect risotto. I can always find a flaw in mine (I’m a Virgo what do you expect?) but Cheryl usually just eats it up and says “wow” which makes me feel good (again, Virgo, need that positive reinforcement).
If you get the basics of risotto down the dish becomes an empty canvas which you can create anything on. Plain, vegetable, seafood, you can put almost anything you like into it. Over the years I’ve figured out the trick to making a good and creamy risotto is finishing with some butter. When it’s cooked just right add a little more water and some butter to make a nice creamy sauce. And please please please don’t be tricked into thinking a pressure cooker can make good risotto. One complaint (from impatient people) is “but it takes so long and you have to stir it a lot.” Yeah, so what? That’s how you make it. DO NOT get taken in by those pressure cooker recipes (trust me they’re out there). The result is a gummy mess of rice. Sorry to get all elitist about it but seriously, no pressure cookers.
This is one dish I love to prepare and I’m constantly trying to perfect it. One thing about risotto, practice, practice, practice! It’s the only way you’ll figure it out.
Mushroom and Carrot Risotto
- 1 oz dried mushrooms (porcini, chanterelle)
- 4 C water
- 1 small carrot, small dice
- ½ medium onion diced
- 2 Tbs butter + 1 Tbs for the finish
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- ⅓ C white wine
- 1 C Arborio or Carnaroli rice
- ½ C grated parmigiano-reggiano
In a medium saucepan, bring 4 C of water to boil. Remove from heat, add dried mushrooms, cover, and let steep for 30 mins.
Drain and save the liquid. Chop half of the mushrooms. Save the rest for an omelet. Or use them. It’s going to be a lot of mushrooms though.
In a large sauté pan heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. When butter has melted add the carrot and onion. Saute for 5 minutes or until onions are soft.
Next, mix in the C of rice. Cook until rice becomes toasted. Between 3-5 minutes. You’ll be able to smell it. Add the wine and stir until the wine is soaked up.
Add 1 C of the mushroom “stock” and stir until the liquid is soaked up. Add another C and do the same. Repeat until all the liquid is gone. Salt to taste. If the rice isn’t cooked by the time the stock is used up, add some water to finish cooking the risotto to desired consistency. Don’t let all the stock get soaked up. You want to have some left for the sauce.
When risotto is cooked stir in the cheese and the last Tbs of butter. If it’s not creamy enough for you add a little bit of water and stir to make more sauce. It should be loose rather than stiff. Think of it as Tom Colicchio says, it should spread out when you plate it, not sit in a pile.
Got any of that truffle gatherer sauce? Throw a dollop on top.
Now keep practicing this dish for the rest of your life!