Several months ago I brought home some packages of dried Italian mushrooms from Trader Joe's with the intention of making something with them. Well, the day finally arrived that I put them to good use and restored them to their fragrant splendor. These assorted mushrooms had been dormant for at least a month in my cabinet (and who knows how long before that) but as soon as they had just a few minutes to bask in some warm water they were reconstituted to their original plump aromatic state. It was magical.
I decided to make a mushroom risotto – I thought it would be the perfect dish to showcase this delicious import. I turned to one of my reliable cookbooks to guide me on this quest: Jamie Oliver's first book, The Naked Chef. He had a recipe for mushroom risotto that I loosely followed – adding a few of my own little changes here and there. What resulted was a melt-in-your-mouth fragrant risotto that was the perfect host to the medley of mushrooms.
Since I made a lot of this risotto I was excited to experiment with the leftovers. Stay tuned…
Mushroom Risotto with Vermouth and Thyme
- Arborio rice – I used about 2 cups (recipe called for 14 oz)
- 1 quart of vegetable stock (use your favorite kind)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced (one clove to cook with the mushrooms, 2 cloves with the rice)
- 1 onion, finely chopped (I used a red onion because that's what I had)
- 3 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 Cup of dry white vermouth (I used Martini's 'Bianco' because that's what I had in my cupboard – you can use white wine too)
- A few tablespoons of butter cut into small cubes
- Parmesan cheese to grate over the risotto
- 9 oz of fresh mushrooms – I used two packages of mixed wild mushrooms from Trader Joe's – place in a bowl of warm water to let them reconstitute
- One handful of fresh thyme (remove the leaves from the stems and chop)
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- Freshly cracked black pepper
1) To start heat the stock in a pot – use the element on the stove directly behind the one that you'll be using to make the risotto because as you cook the rice you'll be adding ladle fulls of stock into it and this will minimize spillage and make it easier on you.
2) After the mushrooms have had a chance to soak in the water take them out (save the water – you can add it to the stock as it has lots of great mushroom flavor) and add them to a heated pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook for about a minute then add the garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes – add a few squeezes of lemon juice and the thyme. Taste the mushrooms to make sure they are nicely seasoned. Chop 2/3 of the cooked mushrooms and set aside – the other 1/3 will be added at the end to give more texture to the risotto.
3) In a separate pan heat the olive oil and add the finely chopped onion – you want to cook the onion slowly here (medium to lower heat) be careful not to brown the onions rather "sweat" them until they become translucent. After about 3 minutes of cooking add the minced garlic (2 cloves) and cook for about 2 minutes. Once the onions are soft and translucent add the rice – this is the point at which you have to start constantly stirring. No walking away from the stove! Constantly stir the rice (again you don't want to add any color to the rice) – you might need to turn down the heat a little. After a few minutes it will start to look shiny and translucent. It may make crackling noises. Add the vermouth or white wine – continue to stir. Once the liquid is almost completely absorbed into the rice add a ladle full of the broth. The heat on the pan should be medium at this point – you want the liquid to simmer. Add the chopped mushrooms. Now continue to add one ladle full at a time while stirring constantly – as soon as the rice has absorbed most of the liquid add more stock. Continue to do this for about 15 minutes. Add a pinch of salt here and there but do so sparingly – you can always add more later after you've given it a taste – add the pepper to taste too. After the 15 minutes of stirring and ladling, taste the rice – you are trying to achieve soft rice that still has a slight bite to it – think al dente. Once you get to that point add the butter and let in melt into the risotto along with the rest of the mushrooms and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.