Mushroom rice

I did eat proper Venetian risotto once, at a restaurant on the river Brenta. One moment I was sitting on the top deck of a tour boat surrounded by a European school party of smoking, carousing teenagers and the next I was in a totally silent restaurant eating an all white risotto.

The afternoon session dissolved around us because it was the day after a Bank Holiday and some of the Palladian villas that were supposed to be open on Tuesdays were closed. Eventually, the tour operators gave up and instead of returning to Riva degli Schiavoni, disembarked us under a bridge near Padua. After some difficulties, I found a station and a workers’ train to Mestre, finally getting back to Venice around midnight. It was worth it for the risotto alone.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call this risotto ai funghi – there are so many observances I could transgress: ingredient combinations, regional preferences, oil or butter and so on.

The secret is the brodo. Stock which has taken hours to prepare. And I’m not going to do that, so mushroom rice it is.

  • Ingredients: approximately 100g arborio rice, 150-200g fresh chestnut mushrooms, a handful of dried porcini mushrooms if available, half a leek, 500ml liquid, 50-100g grated or shaved Grana Padano cheese, butter, olive oil, pepper and salt, fresh parsley.
  • Method: Rehydrate the dried mushrooms according to instructions on the packaging. Add one tsp butter and the same of olive oil (you can use all butter or oil ) to a non stick pan on a medium heat and when it has melted together, sauté the sliced fresh mushrooms for a minute or two. Then remove them to a plate, turn down the heat and continue with the finely sliced leeks, adding some more butter/oil. Add the porcini and stir. Now put in the rice, and don’t be tempted to fill the pan – the grains expand dramatically during the cooking process. Stir the rice around firmly with a wooden spoon until all the grains are coated and keep on with this, not leaving the pan alone for more than a second or two until the grains are mostly translucent and there is some browning at the tips. Then pour in a half a glass (75-100ml) of white wine and turn the heat back up while continuing to stir. Make sure you reach the bottom of the pan. As the last of the moisture disappears add a ladleful of either the soaking liquid from the porcini (not the bits at the very bottom) or chicken/vegetable stock. Depending on the occasion this could be made with half a stock cube, with boiled up edible vegetable peelings or bones but either way you need about 500ml in total.

Repeat this pouring in of stock while stirring until the rice is almost ready – that is, almost the way you like to eat it. Probably in all about 20-25 minutes in a domestic kitchen. Classically the end dish is quite porridgy with the rice grains softish but separate. I prefer something a little dryer – so just stop at the point which you prefer. Then return the mushrooms to the pan and continue stirring gently for a minute or two. Finally add a tablespoonful of grated cheese and some more butter, salt, pepper and plenty of chopped parsley. Toss it all together and onto your dish.

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