Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Gastronomy – Risotto

Posted on: March 23, 2011


Even for an adventurous home chef, certain dishes carry the stigma of being too complicated or too authentic to reproduce at home.  Lately I’ve been on a kick to prove that I can achieve solid results with “restaurant only” dishes that I find intimidating.  I recently took on paella and was pleasantly surprised by the results.  With that success in my pocket, I set my sights on risotto.

Aside from the difficulty/authenticity issue, I always had the impression that risotto was very unhealthy.  Cream?  Half and half?  Butter? As it turns out, this same richness can be achieved with a relatively small amount of butter and cheese, and a whole lot of broth.  I was relieved to learn that the creaminess is due in part to the arborio rice used in risotto recipes, which has a high starch content, acting as a thickening agent to the broth.  And there is of course some butter, but 2 tablespoons over six servings is no biggie.

As I learned from Top Chef a few weeks ago, mourning the loss of contestant Tre from this season, risotto should spread when served on a plate.  It should be so creamy that it cannot be contained in a pile. For an amateur, I think I came surprisingly close to the right texture and creaminess, even if the Top Chef title would have eluded me.

Risotto (Aerial View)

Spring and its produce are almost here, and risotto takes well to many of those vegetables, like asparagus, peas, and zucchini.  However, in the interest of keeping to the flavors of the moment (and a bottle of truffle oil that was gifted to me a couple months back), I opted for mushroom risotto.  There are several layers of mushroom flavor in the recipe I followed.  You start by soaking dried mushrooms to reconstitute them.  That soaking liquid becomes incredibly flavorful and could be used as cooking liquid for the rice.  Porcini mushrooms seem to be the standard when recipes call for dried mushrooms, but I couldn’t find them.  I think I had a choice of literally every dried mushroom on earth except for porcini.  Go figure.  At random, I picked oyster mushrooms, but I can’t say they were the best choice.  If you really know your mushrooms, there’s room to experiment, but if you can find the porcini, go with them.  The next layer of mushroom flavor is in the form of the variety of fresh mushrooms, portobello and crimini, and then there’s the tablespoon of truffle oil.  I think that the truffle flavor gets a little lost in the mushroom mixture itself, but drizzling it on top of the finished product is a must.

If you’re looking to vary this a little with some extra vegetables, fresh or frozen peas would be lovely, added to the mushroom mixture at the same time as the truffle oil.  Or try asparagus chopped into 1-inch pieces, added at the same time as the herbs.  Asparagus and mushrooms both have earthy flavors that make them go well together.

Risotto is a little bit of a diva in terms of the cooking process.  It requires your attention every few minutes as you check to see if the liquid has been absorbed, and then cup by cup, add all of the broth.  It is not technically difficult, just demanding.  The good news is that the result is utterly luxurious, and the yield is pretty high, so it makes a good dish to entertain (and impress).

Mushroom Risotto

Adapted from Tyler Florence, via

8 cups chicken broth, low sodium

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 onion, diced, divided

2 garlic cloves, minced, divided

1 pound fresh portobello and crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon truffle oil, plus more for drizzling

1-ounce dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit

2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for garnish

Fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

1. Heat the chicken broth in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 onion and 1 clove garlic, cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, herbs and butter. Sauté for 5-10 minutes until lightly browned, season generously with salt and pepper. The mushrooms will give off a lot of liquid, and you want most of this to cook off. Drizzle in truffle oil then add the dried porcini mushrooms which were reconstituted in 1 cup of warm chicken broth (you can save this broth and add it to the rice). Season again generously with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Sauté 1 minute then remove from heat and set aside.

3. Coat a medium saucepan with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté the remaining 1/2 onion and garlic clove. Add the rice and stir quickly until it is well-coated and opaque, 1 minute. This step cooks the starchy coating and prevents the grains from sticking. Stir in wine and cook until it is nearly all evaporated.

4. Now, with a ladle, add 1 cup of the warm broth and cook, stirring, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Add the remaining broth, 1 cup at a time. Continue to cook and stir, allowing the rice to absorb each addition of broth before adding more. The risotto should be slightly firm and creamy, not mushy. Transfer the mushrooms to the rice mixture. Stir in Parmesan cheese, cook briefly until melted. Top with a drizzle of truffle oil, chopped parsley, and additional Parmesan cheese to taste before serving.

Freya Bellin writes weekly for Mark Bittman’s web site and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP pieces include Homemade Pizza and Tapas Dinner Party.


5 Responses to "Frontier Gastronomy – Risotto"

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