risotto. i think it’s one of those foods that people like to order in restaurants but shy away from making at home because it conjures up images of eeennndddlllleeessssssss stirring. good news: you don’t need to stir nearly as much as most recipes will have you believe (especially if you have a nonstick large saucepan or small soup pot).
over the years of both making and eating risotto, i noticed that the risotto i liked in restaurants always had more distinct (soft) grains, whereas what i would end up with when i made it at home was more like a combination of mush and formerly distinct grains. once i started to see “novel” risotto recipes that called for less frequent stirring, i began to hypothesize that perhaps my zealous stirring – as indicated by the recipes i was following – was responsible for this less-than-desirable mushy texture.
obviously any time there is a chance to do less work (especially less work standing over a stove with 2 burners going) and get a better result, i’m going to want to test this new approach. so it shouldn’t be a surprise that i was quite pleased to discover that less-stirring-risotto was more delicious than all-the-stirring-risotto.
ever since this discovery, i’ve looked at risotto recipes for flavor combinations and ideas, but then just followed the same general method: sauté something delicious, add risotto grains, stir and wait for this magical transaction whereby the grains become “translucent” on the edges, get impatient that this translucent thing isn’t happening, forge ahead with adding wine, stir a bit, start adding broth by the ~1/2 cup or so, stirring after each addition but not constantly, repeat 1,000,000,000 times, add cheese, enjoy, wonder why i don’t make risotto more often.
see how easy it is! it’s only (::mumbles:)) steps… seriously though, it’s not so bad and it’s much less bad now that we know we don’t need to stir constantly. and since it’s not particularly complicated once you get to the add broth over and over stage, it’s a great recipe to make while chatting with friends or family.
- 1/3 cup dried mushrooms
- 6 – 8 oz. fresh mushrooms (i’ve used shitake, cremini/baby bella, combinations of varieties – use what you like), cleaned and thinly sliced
- juice from half of a lemon
- 30 oz. (887 ml / 3.75 cups) chicken or vegetable broth (i use low sodium)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 10 oz. (284 g. / 1.5 cups) risotto (arborio rice)
- 4 oz. (118 ml / 1/2 cup) dry white wine
- 3 tablespoons grated hard italian cheese, such as pecorino romano, parmesan, or romano, plus more to pass at the table
- break the dried mushrooms into smaller pieces, about the size of green peas or black beans (aim for smaller than what you see in the photo above; they are difficult to chop later once they are hydrated). put them in a small bowl and cover them with 12 oz. (1.5 cups) hot water. you may want to cover the bowl with a plate to keep the smells from overtaking your kitchen. soak the mushrooms for 30 – 40 minutes. when time is up, line a fine mesh colander with a sturdy paper towel or coffee filter, set this over a medium saucepan, and drain the mushroom liquid into the saucepan. set both the liquid and the hydrated mushrooms aside, in their respective containers.
- put the sliced fresh mushrooms in a medium bowl and add the lemon juice, stirring gently to distribute the lemon juice.
- add the broth to the saucepan with the mushroom liquid, cover, and heat to a simmer. you’ll be keeping this liquid at a simmer the whole time you’re making the risotto, which will likely necessitate turning the heat down a few times as time goes on and there is less liquid in the pan. the cover helps prevent too much liquid from evaporating.
- heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot, ideally non-stick, if you have it, over medium heat. when the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and immediately gently stir them around so that the mushrooms on the bottom don’t absorb all of the oil. cook them for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are nicely browned. put them back in the bowl they were in before and set aside.
- heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in the same pot over medium heat. add the onion and cook for a few minutes, until it is softened and just beginning to brown. stir in the rice and rosemary. continue stirring for about 1 minute, to ensure that all of the rice is coated in the oil from the pan. add both the hydrated and sautéed mushrooms and stir to combine.
- stir in the wine and let the mixture cook, stirring once or twice, until the wine evaporates (about 1, maybe 2, minutes).
- using a ladle or heat-safe mug/measuring cup, add about 4 oz. (1/2 cup) of the simmering broth mixture to the risotto mixture. stir, making sure to get any bits that may be tempted to stick to the bottom of the pan. when the broth is nearly all evaporated in the risotto, add another 4 oz., stir thoroughly, then repeat over and over (and over) until the broth is gone. this will take 20 – 30 minutes. as you get farther along and the rice is more hydrated, stir more frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- when you’ve run out of broth, carefully taste the risotto (it will be very hot, obviously). it should be firm but not crunchy – you don’t want it to be so hard that it sticks in your molars but you also don’t want total mush. i usually need to add another 2 additions of water before my risotto is the right consistency. i use plain warm water at this point to prevent over-salting the risotto with more broth.
- once the risotto is the desired consistency, remove the pan from heat and stir in the cheese. serve immediately, passing more cheese at the table.
dried mushrooms don’t smell good (mine smell like a bad pet store). don’t freak out if you open the package and your nostrils get assaulted with bad smells; your dried mushrooms are ok.
leftovers pro tip: this mushroom risotto makes extra delicious leftovers when heated up with the addition of some roasted garlic chicken sausage and some frozen peas. it’s good heated up as is, too, but if you don’t love the repetition of leftovers, slice up a precooked sausage or two, heat the slices in a large saucepan (with a touch of oil if your pan isn’t nonstick), add frozen peas and give them a few seconds head start on defrosting, then stir in the leftover risotto and a bit of water to loosen it up. stir frequently and serve once the mixture is heated through.
adapted from the cook’s encyclopedia of vegetarian cooking.
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