Once upon a time, a very wise woman posed the question, “Isn’t delayed gratification the definition of maturity?”
Okay, so actually Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw asked that question on the show “Sex and The City.” But all passe pop culture references aside, this question holds some serious weight for anyone with one foot in the “adult world.” As we enter adulthood and discover its ins and outs, we find that many of life’s greatest rewards require a good deal of patience: the perfect apartment you spend months hunting for on Craigslist; a killer promotion that you killed yourself for two years over; that dream job that took you back to school again… There’s a reason why adults are always saying things like “it was worth the wait,” and “patience is a virtue” – after surviving your twenties, my guess is you be able to know this truth deep down in your bones.
Which brings us to Risotto. Risotto is a very grown-up dish. It’s sophisticated, it’s complex, some might even reckon to call it thought-provoking. You’ll find it on the menu of fine restaurants, where it arrives laden with slivers of truffles, and only your very adult salary can afford to order it. Renditions of it are perfumed with fine dry white wine and thyme, two ingredients that don’t enter most home cooks’ refrigerators until their college years are long gone. Risotto is a dish with which you can impress your new boss, new love, new in-laws, or new friends. You know, all of those new “adult-life” who you can no longer count on your flip cup skills to win over.
And, like the experiences of adulthood, risotto will also try your patience.
This is a dish that will make you ask, are we there yet? Okay – so you can’t leave it alone for a moment, or it will burn. But just when you think you’ve got the constant stirring thing down, you discover that over stirring this just a bit will make it too soupy. Eventually you realize that making a good risotto requires striking a balance between attentiveness and relinquishing of control, with a dash of intuition thrown in for good measure. And, like adulthood, you can count on a large glass of wine (or cocktail, let’s be honest) and the company of your friends to get you through the risotto-making process in one piece, and be there to join in celebrating (read: eating) your achievement in the end.
Okay, enough parallels. I promise, this is not as hard as it sounds
When making Mushroom Risotto, the first thing you want to do is mis en place, or prep your ingredients. While this is always a good idea when preparing a meal, it’s especially important to have everything sliced and diced in advance when making risotto, since it does require so much attention. So, gather the good stuff and set it all out on your counter. You’ll need some low-sodium chicken broth, olive oil, unsalted butter, shallots and garlic, some arborio rice (i.e. “risotto rice”), dry white wine, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, and parsley. Oh, and because too much healthiness will kill a person, some heavy cream and parmesan cheese (full ingredient list with measurements at end of post).
Did I say mushrooms? Right. This is a mushroom risotto, so you’ll need some mushrooms. Actually, a lot of mushrooms – the more mushrooms, the better. We mixed chanterelles and baby portobellos for our rendition, and this was an outrageously good combination. I highly recommend staying away from white button mushrooms if you favor a more complex and flavorful risotto. Springing for the good stuff will be a few extra dollars well spent.
Once you’ve chopped your shallots, minced your thyme, and measured everything out, you should be ready to get going. Start by setting up a medium saucepan, and bringing the chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to very low – this will keep the stock hot, which it needs to be for this to work properly.
At the same time, in a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil and melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook, stirring until fragrant and soft, about 3 minutes.
Then, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until wilted and their liquid is evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes.
Once the mushrooms have softened nicely, add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are opaque. This should take about 1 minute, but keep an eye on the heat to ensure the grains get moistened, but don’t burn.
Next add the thyme, salt, pepper, and white wine (and pour yourself a glass if you haven’t already), and cook, stirring, until nearly all the wine has evaporated.
Mmmm. Who doesn’t love thyme? It’s like cooking with teeny little Christmas trees. Wonderful.
Now, it’s time to grow. Give your arms a good stretch and prepare yourself, because this is a marathon, not a sprint. Little by little, start to add the stock to the rice (about half- to three-quarters of a cup at a time) and cook, stirring constantly, until the stock is nearly all evaporated. Continue adding more stock a half a cup at a time as the previous addition is nearly absorbed, until the rice is tender and the risotto is creamy.
The whole process will probably take about a half hour, and once you’re nearing the end of your stock supply, taste the risotto – it should be cooked through (not aldente at all – this isn’t pasta), creamy, and fluffy. At ICE, we learned the trick of dragging your spoon through the risotto against the bottom of the pan to create a “path,” and if the path “stays put” – that is to say, the rice doesn’t immediately rush back in to fill the cleared space – then the risotto is done.
Once you’ve reached this point, stir in the heavy cream, 1/4 cup of the cheese, and the parsley and mix well. Remove the pot from the heat, give the risotto a final taste test, and adjust the seasonings as needed. If you’re feeling fancy, stir in some truffle oil or even some panchetta. But regardless, you must serve this immediately and top each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining cheese.
Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You might even be an adult now, but if you are, it was certainly worth the wait.
Full List of Ingredients With Quantities (Serves 4)
2.5 to 3 cups chicken stock, or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
12 ounces assorted mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced, stems removed and reserved for making stock, if desired
1 cups arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley leaves