Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wild Mushroom Risotto

I have read occasionally of the difficulty of making risotto but I love them and have never really had a problem. You just have to keep stirring until it is perfect. The simple rule of using the best ingredients applies here as elsewhere.

For a delicate, creamy risotto you must use short grain rice. I find Vialone Nano is the best. Grown only around Piedmont in northern Italy, it was created by the Vercelli Rice Experimental Station. First cultivated in 1937 it was introduced into the province of Verona in 1945. It turned out to be a marriage made in heaven. The even climate, rich soil and the plentiful springs of pure sweet water combine to create fine, pearly grains of rice. The spring water allows for crop rotation, reducing the need for and use of chemical fertilisers. It is well worth the effort to search out this stubby little grain which keeps its shape while absorbing the stock, creating a creamy risotto for your pleasure.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small onion, very finely choppped
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
2 tbspn butter
1 tbspn olive oil
200g/8oz arborio rice
25g dried wild mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes

1 litre/ 1 1/2 pints chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbspns fresh basil, chopped
50g/2oz freshly grated Parmesan

Put the stock into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Strain the mushroom soaking water through a very fine sieve into the stock. Set the mushrooms to one side.

Melt one tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil in a large, shallow, heavy based pan over a medium heat. When it starts to foam add the onion and garlic and fry for about 5 minutes till translucent. Add the chopped celery and the rice and stir to coat in the oil. Add a ladle of hot stock and stir with a wooden spoon until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock a ladle at a time and stirring till about half is used, then add the mushrooms and a grating of nutmeg. Add more stock in the same way till most of it has been soaked up by the rice then start checking the rice for doneness - it should be creamy on the outside and firm in the centre. This takes about 20 minutes altogether.

When it reaches this point stir through the Parmesan and the basil, adjust the seasonings and finally stir in the other tablespoon of butter. Serve in large bowls.

The amount of stock that is absorbed varies a little - if you run out before the rice is completely cooked add hot water till you reach the desired consistency. This is a lovely meal to have mid week as it is simple and quick to prepare and ready to eat in about half an hour.

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