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Mushroom Risotto

This is probably the most voluptuous risotto I’ve ever made.  Thick with both cultivated and wild mushrooms, enriched with cognac, beef stock, and marscapone cheese, it’s pretty heady stuff.   Pair it with an earthy pinot noir and a crackling fire.

I used a combination of portobello and cremini, plus a package of mixed dried wild mushrooms.  If you were to use all white button mushrooms you wouldn’t get nearly the depth of flavor, so, tempting as it is to grab those pre-cleaned and sliced packages, force yourself to experiment with other varieties.  I have a slightly unorthodox method of cooking mushrooms, I saute them in a hot dry cast iron pan.  This method is so great because it turns the mushrooms a rich brown, concentrates their flavor, and brings out their ‘meaty’ texture.

One note — even though this is quite a sensual dish, it might not be appropriate for a first date.  For one thing, you’ll be spending the 30 minutes or so before dinner tethered to the stove, and not available to tend to your new friend.  And second, after 30 minutes of ladling, stirring, and taking in the rich scents of this luscious risotto, you might be a tad ‘dewy’, and focused on only one thing — devouring it.  Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but probably not ideal for a first date.  Other than that, this is the perfect romantic dinner for 2.

What You Will Need

  • 1 portobello mushroom
  • 6 oz cremini mushrooms (about a pint)
  • 1/2 oz package of dried wild mushrooms, any variety you like
  • 26 oz container of beef stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 or 3 large shallots, peeled thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup cognac
  • a handful of fresh thyme
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional
  • 1/3 cup marscapone cheese
  • more fresh thyme for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with warm water, according to the package instructions. When they have reconstituted, drain them and give them a rough chop Set aside.
  2. Clean your fresh mushrooms with a damp towel, or, if they are very dirty, give them a quick shower. Pat them dry and then trim and slice them.
  3. Put the fresh mushrooms in a dry saute pan and cook them over medium heat until they start to release their moisture and darken. Stir often so they don’t stick. When the mushrooms are cooked through, turn off the heat and set aside.
  4. Put the beef stock and the water in a saucepan and heat to just under a simmer on the stove. I like to add a few thyme sprigs so they will infuse flavor into the stock as it heats.
  5. In a heavy stockpot, melt the butter and oil and saute the shallot and garlic for about 5 minutes over medium low heat, do not brown them. Add the rice and stir to coat. Saute another minute or so, stirring constantly.
  6. Add the cognac to the pan and stir until it is absorbed. You should hear a nice sizzling sound when it hits the pan. If you don’t, your heat is too low.
  7. Add the reconstituted dried mushrooms and HALF of the fresh mushrooms to the pan, along with at least a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.
  8. Now you are ready to start adding the stock, ladle by ladle, to the pan. Add 1 or 2 ladles (about 1/3 cup) at a time to the rice and stir until it is absorbed. Keep adding the stock, stirring until it is absorbed before you ladle in the next addition. The whole process is going to take about 30 minutes.
  9. After about 20 minutes, start tasting the rice. When it is done it will be tender but still somewhat firm. You may not need all the stock. I like to end with a ladle of stock so the risotto has a somewhat loose consistency before I add the cheese.
  10. When the rice is done, add in the squeeze of lemon juice, and the cheeses and stir well. Taste again to adjust the seasonings. I like to sprinkle in more thyme at this point.
  11. Plate the risotto right away, and top with the remaining fresh mushrooms and more fresh thyme.

Notes

The secret to a successful risotto is keeping the stock and the pan at the right temperature. The pot should be gently simmering at all times. If you add a ladle of stock to the pan and it doesn’t simmer instantly, your stock or your pot is not hot enough. You don’t want a furious boil, just a constant simmer.
The marscapone will make the risotto extra creamy, but you can leave it out if you like.

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This recipe is just perfect as is, but I know that many of you will want to make it a little differently, for your own reasons.  Here’s what I suggest…if you want to make this vegetarian, go with a mushroom broth rather than a vegetable broth, or a combination of the two, you’ll get better flavor.  You can also strain the water that the dried mushrooms soak in and use that as part of your broth.  If you want to use chicken broth in place of beef, I might substitute dry sherry, vermouth, or dry white wine for the cognac.  You can leave out the marscapone if you like, and maybe add a little extra Parmesan.  In any case, don’t leave out the fresh thyme.

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