There are two keys to a good, no REALLY good Risotto: the rice and the stock.
Of course the final dish does depend on all the accoutrements such as the vegetables used, quality of cheese and butter and the correct wine to add base flavors. But if you start with the best rice you can get, and the best stock (homemade of course), you’re more than half way there to an outstanding meal sure to please everyone.
I think Risotto gets a bad wrap for being labour intensive and “too much work”. I disagree; it’s really quite simple (not too many ingredients) and can be made in about 20-25 minutes. If you follow the sequence outlined in the recipe below, the texture and flavors will be phenomenal every time.
So, for the star of the show—the rice.
I like to use Carnaroli rice. And in particular the Campanini brand. Watch this video to learn more about the company (don’t worry, I don’t understand Italian either, but gives you an idea of how it’s milled). According to the experts, Carnaroli rice is the Rolls Royce of rices. It has a longer grain than other rices with more starch, making it firmer and better for slower cooking. True to their word, it does hold up in texture (makes a perfect al dente) and is creamier than Arborio. Yes, it’s a bit tricky to find, but if you’re going to the effort to make Risotto do try this. I buy mine at Sur La Table (it’s more reasonably priced there than some on-line stores) or if you have a good Italian grocer near you, see if they stock it or can order it for you.
Next the stock.
I prefer chicken stock and it’s so easy (and inexpensive to make). Once you taste homemade stock, trust me you will never buy cans, dry cubes or packets again. Make a big batch to freeze in quart-size containers and ice cube trays (those are handy for a quick addition to sauces or soups!). Get Chicken Stock Recipe
Now, for the Wild Mushroom Risotto:
4 cups best quality chicken stock
1 large shallot, finely sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup carnaroli rice
1/3 cup dry white wine. (see note below on wine)
1/4 pound baby crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound dried fresh shiitake, chanterelle, or trumpet mushrooms, sliced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup parmesano reggiano, freshly grated
sea salt & pepper to taste
Heat chicken stock in a saucepan. Keep on low heat on a back burner. Heat braiser over medium heat and add shallot, olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Cook only until translucent, do not brown.
Add in rice and stir to coat grains. It will pop in the pan at first but as the rice becomes coated with the oil and butter, it will stop popping. Careful not to brown the rice. Add wine and stir until all the liquid is absorbed.
Add all mushrooms and thyme sprigs. Stir to combine with rice and cook for 5 minutes or until mushrooms begin to release their liquid.
Add the chicken stock, 2 ladle spoons full at a time. Stir rice gently and continue to add stock until all stock is used. *Make sure the liquid is completely absorbed each time before adding more. Once all liquid has been used, remove braiser from heat and add in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and cheese. Stir gently to incorporate and until Risotto has a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let Risotto sit off the heat COVERED for 10 minutes. Stir again and garnish with more grated parmesano. Serves 6.
Use a Risotto dish (if you’re lucky enough to own one) but any shallow braiser will work. I love Risotto and make it frequently, so I invested in a Le Creuset 1.5 Quart Braiser. It’s the perfect size for this recipe and the more shallow design allows the maximum rice-to-liquid ratio during cooking.
Do not add the salt until noted in the recipe. For some reason, for which I cannot explain, it will hamper the even cooking of the rice if you add it earlier. Plus, you run the risk of over-salting if you add it before the parmesano is added.
The wine used will have a big impact on the final flavors. ONLY use a wine you would drink. I recommend a dry Gewürztraminer as I like the spice notes and floral aromatics from this varietal. Also good are an Italian Pinot Grigio or Vernaccia. Really any dry, higher acidity white will work. Just don’t use Chardonnay– it doesn’t have enough acidity and the oak flavors will over-power the delicateness of the dish.