Playing it safe with Mushroom Risotto

It’s been a while since anything went wrong for me in the kitchen.  Everything has been turning out how I would hope it would and I’ve not had any major disasters.  This in it itself is great news but it begs the question am I still challenging myself?  I’ve been playing it safe for some time now (because it’s easy/avoids failure/I’m risk averse – pick one) and I conveniently forgot about the culinary challenges I set myself at the beginning of the year (not resolutions).  Not that I wish to invite failure, quite the contrary, I wish to improve myself and I can only do that if I try new things.  After 20 years of cooking I finally feel like I’ve mastered the basics but I play it safe most of the time.  I should really be pushing myself a bit more.

So, I’ve planned my cooking over the next few weekends to get some of these challenges in the bag or at least make a start on them.  Before I know it’s going to be June and I’ll have done nothing about challenging myself which is no good, no good at all.

In the meantime here is one of my safe options.  I wasn’t going to share a recipe for this because, you know, I can’t usually be bothered with such things (I mean writing recipes not sharing, I love sharing), but this is short so I thought I’d go for it.  But first I want to share a few risotto tips with you that I’ve picked up over the years.  Risotto is a seemingly innocuous and unassuming dish but it can be a bit tricky to get right.

Butter – you can’t make a decent risotto without lots and lots of butter.  Don’t skimp on the butter.  Don’t think you can make do with half of the amount in the recipe because you can’t.  Go on, throw it all in.

Stock – there are two schools of thought when it comes to stock: proper homemade stock vs a cube or bouillon.  I (hold the front page) use a cube like 90% of the rest of the population.  Also, you might not need to use all the stock you have prepared so don’t just be throwing it in with wanton abandon.

Time and patience – it takes time to make a risotto and you can’t rush the process.  Fry those onions on a low heat for as long as they need to go translucent and glossy.  Add the stock a spoon at a time.  Don’t drown the rice.  Similarly, make sure you keep an eye on it for sticking to the bottom of the pan.

More butter – at the end, just before the rice is cooked perfectly, turn the heat off, dot blobs of butter on the top of the risotto, put the lid on the pan and let it sit for 5 minutes.  This, along with some parmesan added at the end, is called the mantecatura which gives it that much sought after creaminess.

Rice – use proper risotto rice – Arborio or Carnarolli.  At the end of the process the rice should have a firmness to it.  It should not be chalky or too soft and gloopy (this is a technical term of course).

Seasoning – I don’t add salt because there is the stock and the parmesan to consider but I most definitely add a few generous grindings of black pepper on to my plate.

And so, before I further enrage staunch hard core risotto fans………..

Mushroom risotto

Serves 4 (but for us it usually serves 2 with leftovers for a modest lunch the next day)

Finely dice an onion and in a wide bottomed lidded pan fry the onion gently in 60g of unsalted butter and a splash of olive oil till the onion is translucent.  Slice 200g of chestnut mushrooms and add them to the onion.  Cook till the mushrooms have softened.  Add 300g of risotto rice and stir to coat each grain of rice in butter then add 80ml of white wine to the mixture.  Make up 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock.  When the wine has been absorbed start adding the stock a ladle at a time.  Stir and when the stock has almost been completely absorbed add a bit more.  Keep adding and stirring until the rice is almost cooked.  You don’t need to stir constantly but you can’t leave it completely unattended.  The rice should still have a bite to it but should not be chalky.  When you’ve got the rice to almost perfect dot 60g of butter over the surface of the risotto and scatter over 60g of finely grated parmesan.  Put the lid on the pan and leave to finish cooking off the heat.  After 5 minutes stir the melted butter and cheese through the risotto, scatter with chives or parsley, then serve and enjoy the fruits of your labour.


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