Well, Autumn is well and truly upon us. We’re waking up to cool mornings and going to bed to downright chilly nights. And while our local farmers market is still full of peaches and tomatoes, a mushroom stand made its first appearance last week. Mushroom Risotto came immediately to mind. I love risotto but it’s a bit ponderous in the heat of the summer. Now that the temperatures have dipped, it’s time to welcome the new season with a risotto flavored with the most iconic of Autumn vegetables.
This classic of northern Italian cooking is quite easy to make, and follows the usual risotto technique we’ve covered many times before. It can be made with either fresh or dried mushrooms (see Notes for details).
- 500g (1 lb) risotto rice
- 250g (1/2 lb) fresh porcini or other wild mushroom, or 50g (1-2 oz) dried porcini (see Notes)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- White wine
- Broth, either meat or vegetable, preferably homemade
- 100g (3-1/2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Butter and/or olive oil
If using fresh mushrooms, trim off their roots, clean off any lingering dirt with a pastry brush, and cut them into strips or dice. If using dried mushrooms, soak them for 20 minutes, or until soft, in lukewarm water, then drain them, reserving the liquid, squeeze them dry and chop them roughly.
Sauté the onion over gentle heat in a nob of butter, or in a mixture of equal parts butter and olive oil, until the onions have softened and are just starting to turn color. Raise the heat a bit, add the mushrooms and let them soak up the flavors of the onion for a few minutes, until they are also soft and any liquid has cooked off.
Add the rice and let it, too, soak up the flavors of the onion and mushroom. When the rice has turned a chalky white, add a splash of white wine and let that cook off.
Now, following the usual technique for making risotto, add the broth, one ladleful at a time, letting each ladleful cook off before adding the rest. (If you’re using dried mushrooms, add their soaking liquid along the way, making sure that any grit stays behind.) The heat should be moderate, so that it bubbles in a lively but not violent way. The rice should take about 20 minutes total to cook.
When the rice is done, take if off heat and add the grated cheese and, if you like an even richer risotto, another nob of butter. Stir vigorously for about a minute, so that the rice becomes creamy and smooth.
In Italy, risotto ai funghi, or Mushroom Risotto, is often made with fresh porcini mushrooms in season, but porcini can be hard to find elsewhere—and are always very expensive. Other wild mushrooms will work quite well. Personally, I find chanterelles are a particular fine choice, although for tonight’s dinner, I used “chicken of the woods” mushrooms. Those packaged ‘medleys’ of mushrooms you can find in many supermarkets, which are not wild but still flavorful, can do decent service. The one variety you want to avoid are button mushrooms, which just don’t have enough flavor. If you can’t find the right fresh mushrooms, you can do as many Italians do and use dried mushrooms. The best are dried porcini—also pretty expensive, but a little goes a long way. Your choice of mushroom will influence the look and taste of your risotto, of course. Dried mushrooms turn out a risotto that’s quite dark and intensely flavored. Those “chicken of the woods” mushrooms are lightly colored, and resulted in a unusually bright risotto.
Although some people feel that it’s been debunked, I still stick to the old-fashioned rule against washing mushrooms. I think that would go particularly for wild ones. Just use a pastry brush to wipe off any stray bits of grit before. The one exception is for dried mushrooms. If them seem a bit gritty after soaking, I give them a quick rinse before squeezing and chopping them.
Recipes for Mushroom Risotto vary in telling you when to add the mushrooms. Here I follow the most straight-forward method, which is to sauté the mushrooms at the start, add your rice and proceed from there in a single pot. But other recipes have you sauté your mushroom separately, as in the recipe for funghi trifolati, and then add the mushrooms either halfway through or at the very end of cooking your rice, perhaps reserving a few sautéed mushroom slices to top the risotto when serving.
Not all recipes call for adding grated cheese at the end—for many Italians, mushrooms and cheese don’t mix, just as seafood and cheese don’t. The final mantecatura (final enrichment step) is accomplished with a nob of butter. Others will allow cheese at the table for topping.
For the best kinds of rice to use when making your Mushroom Risotto, and other tips, see our post Risotto: The Basic Recipe.