Thursday, October 7, 2010

Classic Italian Mushroom Risotto

There is nothing more heartwarming than a lovingly prepared Risotto con Funghi. Add cognac and cream, and you have a symphony of flavours. It is the ultimate Italian comfort food. A classic dish of Northern Italy, risotto is warm, satisfying and incredibly versatile. You can play with the condimenti (flavours and ingredients) adding meats, fish or vegetables depending on your taste, but every risotto is created in basically the same way. 

The riso, usually arborio rice, is combined with the soffrito (butter, oil and minced onion), then the brodo (simmering broth) is added to the rice in small increments, allowing the rice to absorb each addition before adding the next, leaving it creamy but with the individual grains cooked through but still offering slight resistance in the centre — al dente. The condimenti can be added at the beginning, middle or end of the cooking process, depending on the recipe. Risotto that has a little cream and Parmesan cheese stirred in at the end is called mantecatura, and results in a remarkably smooth and richer tasting risotto. Just as the dialects differ from region to region, so do the preparations for risotto, however the basic cooking language stays the same — a good risotto takes a bit of time and patience, but the results are worth it. Buon appetito!

Risotto con Funghi, Cognac e Panna

1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups cremini mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
2 cups shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
3/4oz package dried porcini mushrooms
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cognac
1/2 cup light cream
1/3 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

5 cups chicken or mushroom broth (for vegetarians)

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely minced shallots

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

For the condimenti: place the dried porcini in a small bowl with 1 cup of boiling water. Allow them to stand 30 minutes. Strain the liquid in to a saucepan with the broth and chop the mushrooms coarsely. Set aside. Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. When it begins to foam, add the cremini, shitake and porcini mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to high, add the cognac and cook until it is reduced by half. Lower the heat, add the cream and continue cooking, about 5 minutes longer, until the cream has reduced slightly and thickened. Turn off the heat and set aside.

For the brodo: bring the broth combined with the porcini liquid,  to a steady simmer in a saucepan on top of the stove.

For the sofritto: heat the butter and oil in a heavy bottomed 4-quart casserole over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté 1 -2 minutes, until it begins to soften, being careful not the brown it.

For the riso: add the arborio rice to the sofritto, and using a wooden spoon, stir for 1 minute making sure all the grains are well coated. Begin to add the simmering broth 1/2 cup at a time. Wait until each addition is almost completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Taste the risotto frequently to test for done-ness. After about 20 minutes, when the rice is tender but still firm, add the condimenti — the mushroom-Cognac-cream mixture, parsley and parmesan — and stir vigorously to combine with the rice. Serve immediately on preheated dinner plates or bowls, garnishing with a little chopped parsley for colour. 

Serves 4 as a main course, or 6 as a primo piatto.