I remember the first time I ate Risotto. I had no idea what it was when I saw the name on the lunch menu in the school cafeteria. The kitchen staff had mixed boiled rice with some peas, sweet corn, bell pepper, ham, and called it Risotto. They explained to us kids that it was an Italien delicacy. None of us could understand why. It didn’t taste bad, but it was nothing to be impressed about.
I suppose we should have been suspicious when they served the same dish the following week. But now it had suddenly changed the name to Nasi Goreng. The only difference was that they had added some curry powder.
It took many years before I realized that real Risotto actually doesn’t taste like that. It was not until I read a recipe for Risotto in an Italian cookbook that I began to understand how cheated I had been in school. The recipe contained rice, shallot, chicken stock, white wine, and lots of parmesan cheese. You only had to read that ingredient list to realize that Risotto was something glorious.
This is my recipe for a Risotto ai Funghi Porcini. It’s very close to a traditional recipe from an Italien cookbook. The main difference is that I have used chicken broth instead of meat broth. Sometimes it can be hard to find real Porcini (or Penny bun). If so, you can use white mushrooms or Portabello. This year we have been blessed with lots of Porcini were I live. But I decided to mix the Porcini with white mushrooms, just to see how it tasted. It still tasted heavenly, so don’t let it stop you if you can’t find any Porcini. It’s still worth the effort, I promise.
As usual, high-quality ingredients are a must. Therefore it’s not advisable to use whatever sort of rice you happen to have available in the pantry.
Invest in a package of real Risotto rice like Arborio (sometimes called Avorio), Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli. Carnaroli is considered to be the most exclusive and therefore also the most expensive.
What all three has in common is a higher starch content than ordinary rice. And that’s crucial to get that creamy texture you want in a Risotto. Try to make Risotto with ordinary rice, and you will probably end up with the same ordinary boiled rice I had to eat at school. And that’s not worth the effort. Take my word for it. And one more thing. Never rinse the rice before you cook it. You will wash away some of the valuable starch you want in your Risotto instead.
Another key ingredient is the wine. Many people think that wine is just used as a seasoning and therefore can be excluded. But it also has another important function. The acid in the wine stabilizes the rice grain and prevents the starch from breaking down too fast.
You normally use meat broth when you cook traditional Risotto ai Funghi. In this recipe, I have used chicken broth instead as I think it gives a slightly improved taste. But if you want to be traditional you should use meat broth. Or try both and see which one you like best.
It is important not to let the rice Cook for too long. Especially the Arborio rice can be very sticky if held too long. Carnaroli is more forgiving because it releases starch slower, and that’s probably one of the reasons why it’s more expensive. Taste frequently during the end of the cooking process. The grain shall be tender but still firm to the bite. Another important thing is that you cannot do anything else while you are cooking Risotto. You have to stir continuously.
But what about the mushroom? They are sautéed in a different saucepan along with some butter. You mix them with the Risotto just before serving, perhaps with some roasted tomatoes. Do that immediately. If you try to keep it warm before serving, there’s a risk that you will end up with a sticky mess. That’s why it so hard for restaurants to make top-notch Risotto. Few guests are willing to wait the time it takes to prepare the dish. And they cannot do anything ahead because the result will simply be inferior. Isn’t that great? The best Risotto you can get is the one you cook yourself.