Too many of my friends are intimidated by cooking risotto, but in reality it’s not too complex. You do have to pay attention to the cooking times, and it’s not a “set and forget” dish, but technically there’s not too much to master. And once you have the basics – you can make thousands of different risottos.
This is my version of mushroom risotto, one of my wife’s absolute favorites. Here I’m just using “garden” variety Crimini mushrooms, but you can go a bit more elegant with wild mushrooms or go really crazy by adding a bit of shaved truffle to dish at the end.
Ingredients for Mushroom Risotto
- Arborio Rice – half cup (about a quarter cup per person)
- Fresh Thyme – the leaves of a few sprigs
- Shallot – finely diced
- Garlic – a mined clove
- White wine – a third of a cup
- Chicken Stock - 4 – 6 cups
- Parmesan cheese - quarter cup
- Mascarpone cheese – 3 – 4 tablespoons
- Sautéed mushrooms – about half a cup
- Truffle oil – a drizzle (optional)
Recipe Overview & Keys to Success
There are just a few things you need to keep in mind to make a perfect risotto. The first and most important, is to not overcook the rice. The rice takes about 20 minutes to get to the right “al dente” texture, and if you go beyond that, you can end up with mushy “baby food”. So you when you get near the end, you need taste frequently (trust your taste buds not the clock), and pull the rice off the heat when it’s time.
I believe the other key to a good risotto is balance. You want the rice to be the main star and your other ingredients to support that main star. So don’t go crazy adding tons of cheese, or cream, or mushrooms or anything else. Rather let everything pay its part without trying to be the star.
Finally, you can play pretty fast and loose with the ingredients. If you don’t have enough stock, supplement it with water. If you don’t have mascarpone cheese, use a bit of sour cream, or whipping cream, or butter. The only thing you can’t really substitute is the type of rice – you have to use Arborio.
Sauté the mushrooms
- For my standard mushroom risotto I generally use Crimini mushrooms, diced up to approximately ¼ inch pieces
- Sautee the mushrooms in olive oil, salt and pepper until the water in the mushroom is mostly evaporated, and the mushrooms have developed a nice golden brown.
- Set aside while you make your risotto
Making the Risotto
- Put your stock in a pot, on the heat until the stock is near simmering, and adjust the heat to keep it at that temperature. Grab a ladle you can use to spoon the stock into the risotto pan.
- To a hot pan add enough olive oil to coat the bottom, and the diced shallot.
- Sauté the shallot until it softens slightly, then add the garlic. Keep your heat on medium to medium low so that neither burn (finely diced garlic can burn quickly)
- Add the risotto to the pan (if needed you can add a bit more olive oil) and toast the rice for 2 – 3 minutes. Stir regularly. The rice should give off a slightly nutty aroma, and start to become a bit translucent.
- After a few minutes, add the white wine and stir to coat the rice. Allow the wine to reduce until it is nearly gone.
- Season the rice with salt and pepper (do it now so the rice absorbs the flavor)
- Add 1 – 2 ladles of stock, enough to just submerge the rice. Stir the rice and stock until the stock is nearly reduced, then add some more stock. You’ll repeat this process with the rice and stock just barely simmering, until the rice is just cooked through – about 20 minutes.
- A NOTE ABOUT STIRRING: The folklore says to “never stop stirring”. I think that’s an exaggeration. Constant stirring is not needed, but every minute or so you do need to give it a good 5 – 10 stir throughs. You can’t walk away and come back every 5 – 10 minutes.
- The liquid will become increasingly thick and “saucy” as the starch from the rice is released.
- At the 15 minute mark start tasting the grains of rice, and when they get al dente (just a slight toughness), add the mascarpone, parmesan and thyme and stir to combine
- Turn the heat all the way down
- Add the mushrooms into the risotto and stir to combine and heat all the way through
- Add a drizzle of truffle oil and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust the salt and pepper if needed
Serving the Risotto
- Keep in mind that once off the heat and in the plate, risotto has a tendency to thicken. So I generally keep mine just a tiny bit soupier in the pan than I actually want on the plate knowing it will thicken.
- If it’s too thin, you can just let it cool a bit and/or add a bit more parmesan cheese. If it’s too thick, add some more stock or water.
- You can garnish with a little chopped Italian parsley or shaved parmesan cheese