In wintertime, well-dressed risottos wear mushrooms and spinach.
To paraphrase J.D. Salinger: It's a perfect day for risotto. Actually last Saturday, when I had the afternoon free to spend in the kitchen, trying out a new recipe for a warm salad, simmering a stock, stirring and sipping my way through a batch of winter risotto.
Risotto is a very hands-on process. Unlike baking, where precise measurements are key, risotto will forgive your erring on the side of generosity. Especially when it comes to the wine. Heat, though, is more important. Try to keep the temperature even and hot enough for a fast simmer, and make sure the stock and wine are also warm (though not boiling, in the case of the wine). A good wooden spoon is best for stirring, and if you can talk a menial servant (or alternatively, a dinner guest) into stirring while you prepare the rest of the meal, that's always a good idea.
The bottom line, though, is that with the right ingredients, risotto is very easy to prepare. It's also very versatile: winter, spring, summer, and fall vegetables all adapt to seasonal risottos. Mushroom and spinach for winter, pumpkin for fall, asparagus and pea for spring, and just about anything for summer.
I happened to have some portobellos, some mushrooms (the ubiquitous button mushrooms you can buy at any supermarket) and some dried porcinis. Whatever type of mushrooms you have hiding in your dark fridge will do. (Did you know cremini mushrooms are just baby portobellos? Did you also know the refrigerator is dark when you shut the door? But I do not know what a bananafish is. Some mysteries remain here at WDIK?.)
Three Mushroom Risotto:
1/4 cup olive oil, in all
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup risotto rice
1 generous cup dry white wine, in all
1 cup chopped button mushrooms
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup chopped portobello mushrooms
6 cups vegetable stock, in all
1 cup chopped spinach
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
a dash of white pepper
possibly some vegan parmesan cheese
First, make a stock, and keep it simmering on the stove as you prepare the risotto. Reserve 1 cup of stock in a glass measuring cup, add 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms and let sit for 20 minutes until rehydrated.
Heat the wine in a microwave or in a pan, until it is warm to the touch. Do not boil.
Heat enough olive oil in a large dutch oven to generously cover bottom. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add garlic, and risotto rice. Saute 2 minutes, stirring constantly to coat rice grains with oil.
Add 1/2 cup of wine and stir as the alcohol evaporates, about 1 minute.
Begin adding hot stock, one ladle full at a time, stirring until liquid is incorporated, then adding more liquid as needed. (You will continue to do this throughout the process, for about 25 minutes.) After a few minutes, add button mushrooms and portobello mushrooms to the risotto mixture. Keep stirring.
Add the dried porcinis and the liquid you've rehydrated them in. (Chop them first into bite-sized pieces, or better yet, break them up before you put them into the liquid.)
When the risotto has cooked about 20 minutes, add spinach, the salt, and the pepper. Stir, and cook about 5 minutes.(Taste for seasonings at this point, and to check that the rice grains are soft. If not, keep cooking a bit longer, adding more stock.)
Add the rest of the white wine. Stir, and simmer another minute or two—not too long, or you'll lose the gorgeous taste of the wine.
Stir in another tablespoon or so of olive oil, and cover pot. Remove from heat. Let sit for a few minutes while you prepare the table. (If you haven't yet weaned yourself or your guests from the idea of dairy products, you may want to add some vegan parmesan cheese at this point.)
Note: as the rice absorbs more liquid, you may not need to stir constantly—just avoid letting it stick to the pan, and watch it carefully. Keep the heat on medium-high. You may not use all the stock; conversely, you may use more. Use homemade if at all possible. (See below.)
Fresh stock for mushroom risotto:
Combine in a large stockpan: 2 carrots, cut in 2 or 3 chunks each, 1 onion, quartered; 1 leek, cut in half, 1 or two shallots, quartered; 3 garlic cloves; fennel stems; 1 or 2 stalks celery (plus leaves); 5 or 6 mushrooms; a few dried porcini mushrooms; various herbs, especially parsley, rosemary, bay leaves; whatever else you think might taste nice excluding cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli and the like), beets, or tomatoes.
Add 6-8 cups of water.
Simmer over medium heat for 1 hour.