Porcini and Shiitake Mushrooms Risotto
Rice is definitely not an Italian discovery, but Risotto is for sure an Italian invention.
I’m talking about the creamy, buttery dish typical from Northern Italy, made in dozens of different ways but always with a very specific procedure. Risotto as such has been around since the early XIXth century, even though rice was introduced to Italy and specifically to Naples by the Spaniards in the XVIth century. In Naples it did not acquire a stronghold but travelled north where the humid and rainier climate of the Pianura Padana – the vast plain along the Po river – constituted a perfect setting for the cultivation of rice, which requires a lot of water.
The rice varieties cultivated in Italy are very specific, and authentic Risotto can be made preferably with the small to medium grain Carnaroli, Arborio, Vialone Nano, and Baldo. Those are round and plump grains of rice, all of them with one specific and precious characteristic: high level of starch in the grain. And this is absolutely essential to get that rich and creamy dish: the starch is released during the cooking process, particularly in the stirring phase.
There are also clear differences among those varieties: I personally prefer to use Carnaroli as it stays very al dente in the center of the grain. So, it keeps its bite throughout the cooking process. Arborio to my taste becomes very mellow, so I suggest using it when you really want a super creamy result, for example if you make a risotto with gorgonzola cheese or with butternut squash.
It might look intimidating to prepare a Risotto, but believe me once you have the basic rules down, it is a no brainer. Do not trust people who tell you that it takes an hour of stirring to make a great Risotto: they are missing a few basic rules that I will reveal to you. If it takes more than 20 minutes, then there is a problem! I was reading that it was fashionable for the Milanese aristocracy to serve risotto at midnight during a party: I think we should all reinstate this beautiful habit, as there is nothing more comforting than a steaming dish of Risotto. You will impress your guests, once more.
The version we are preparing today is with mushrooms: I like to boost the white rice with vegetables. When you add the butter and parmigiano, it will become a nutritious meal all by itself!
1 cup Carnaroli rice
2-3 tablespoons of EV Olive Oil
½ glass of white table wine
1 pint vegetable stock preprepared
8-10 Shiitake mushrooms
½ cup dried porcini Mushrooms from Italy (much more flavorful than others)
2 cloves of garlic
1-2 tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano
1/3 cup shaved Parmigiano
Some parsley for decoration
Salt and Pepper
Prepare the Mushrooms first:
1. Put the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl of water to soak and rehydrate. The process takes a couple of hours; to speed things up, I heat up the bowl with water and mushrooms in the microwave for one-two minutes and let it rest for 15-20 minutes
2. Remove the mushrooms from the water but DO NOT DISCARD! Filter it twice with a fine mesh strainer to remove all the sand and small particles. Add the cleaned soaking water to the vegetable stock to make your risotto more flavorful
3. Rinse the Shiitake mushrooms carefully, then slice them by hand or with the help of the food processor sliding blade attachment. We will chop them after cooking, so thickness and shape are not very important. You can keep a few whole slices as a decoration to add last minute on top of the risotto once ready to serve.
4. Season the Shiitake with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, salt and pepper to your taste. Sautee briefly in a nonstick pan coated with EVOO, add garlic cloves. After 3-4 minutes add the porcini mushrooms as well, stir and let cook covered for 4-5 minutes. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable stock as needed.
5. Remove from heat, let cool down a bit, then pulse 4-5 times in the same food processor. Set aside.
1. Put the vegetable stock to heat on a low flame.
2. Chop the shallot and sauté in EV Olive Oil for 2-3 minutes, being careful that it does not get too brown.
3. When it starts to become translucent, add the rice, and stir rapidly with a spatula. This is a delicate stage: you must toast the rice kernels without burning them. If you do not stir furiously, the rice will stick to the bottom and will burn or get an uneven coloration. It takes 2 minutes to get the kernels translucent, but still with a visible white core.
4. At this point, lower the flame and add the white wine. It will make a very loud noise and smoke and will evaporate almost right away.
5. Add immediately enough stock to cover the rice, but no more than that. Keep stirring making sure the rice does not stick to the bottom or to the wall of your pot.
6. When all the stock is absorbed, and you can see the bottom of the pot when you stir the rice, add more stock to cover the rice.
7. After 10 minutes add the cooked and roughly chopped mushrooms, keep stirring and adding stock as needed.
8. When you are already 15 minutes in the process, you should start to be careful: taste the rice to judge how much more liquid it will need to be ready but on the hard side.
If you add too much liquid when the rice is almost ready, it will take too long to absorb the extra liquid, and your risotto will result overcooked.
9. Turn off the flame when the liquid is almost completely absorbed, and the rice is soft but still a bit chewy.
10. Add the butter, a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmigiano, and shake the rice pot to mix. Let it rest for 3-4 minutes, covered. Enough time to “mantecare”: absorb the excess liquid and get the ultimate creaminess through the perfect mix of ingredients.
11. Plate and decorate with some shaved parmigiano and chopped parsley. Eat immediately!!
A Few Notes:
- The tostatura of the rice is an essential step: it creates a kind of impermeable skin on the kernel that will slow down the absorption of liquid thus preventing the rice from becoming too soft too quickly. For this purpose, you don’t need to have too much oil in the pot, otherwise your risotto will be fried! You will notice the difference in the kernel shape and texture between cooked risotto rice and boiled rice.
- The second most important thing is to let the added stock at boiling temperature all the time. I mean the stock that you add must be hot, and when you mix it with the rice and keep cooking you must see small bubbles all the time. If you lower the temperature too much because you are worried that it will stick (for example if you want to take a short break from stirring), well the liquid will not boil, and the rice will not cook but become mushy. Huge problem for Risotto connoisseurs! So better not to try your chance and never stop stirring.
- If you finish the stock but your rice is not cooked yet, just add boiling water.
- You can substitute shiitake with cremini mushrooms, but they are less flavorful. On the contrary when in season Chanterelle mushrooms (the deep-yellow ones) are delicious for this recipe. You can eliminate the porcini for a simpler and more economical version of the risotto altogether.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.