Saturday, October 3, 2015

Autumn Mushroom Season- Risotto with Forest Mushrooms

I was watching a rerun of the Food Network show Chopped the other day and this particular episode featured teen chefs. One of the teen chefs made a sorta-risotto that to me sounded like a pretty decent dish for an adult chef put in the hot seat, let alone a 16 year old. Risotto is not an easy dish to prepare well, especially under the pressure of a clock looming overhead and three competitors at your side. While this teen chef did a pretty good job and had what I consider a very successful dish, obviously it wasn't a true risotto. You have to invest the time and attention to have a well prepared dish, and you have to have the right kind of rice. Any old rice will not do.

So if you can't use regular rice, what do you use? Arborio rice. This Italian short grain rice is perfect for the long, slow cooking with constant stirring. It's high starch content keeps the grains firm, holds their shape perfectly and combines with the broth during cooking to make a creamy consistency. In the package it seems to be covered in a fine starchy dust. Other types of rice, such as long grain rice, could never hold up in this kind of cooking. The grains are too brittle and crumbly and your risotto would be more like Cream of Wheat.

Risotto is so much more than just rice though. Often times you will see recipes that include vegetables like leeks or asparagus, squash and even some greens. Mushrooms make a regular appearance in all kinds of risotto recipes and is a very unique way to use wild mushrooms, fresh or dehydrated. Every once in a while if my timing is just right I stop at the store in the city at the same time they have a huge selection of mushrooms. Today was my lucky day! They had all kinds of mushrooms I had never heard of, and one that many people forage for. 

The first mushroom I noticed was the Trumpet Royale. The price tag caught my eye as well, but I figured I was only going to need a couple....... This interesting mushroom is pleurotus eryngii, and is also known as a king trumpet, French horn mushroom, and a handful of other names. A native of the Mediterranean region this big boy is the largest of the oyster mushroom family. It has a thick stem, and a meaty texture. 

Another awesome score was a nice clump of grifola frondosa, known to mushroom hunters as Hen of The Woods. I remember my dad bringing these frilly delicate mushrooms home when I was a kid. In Japan this is one of the most widely used mushrooms, known there as maitake, and has many medicinal properties as well as being delicious. It's a clump of delicate petal-like mushrooms that cooks in a flash. If you ever see this one, you really should give it a try, it's a gorgeous mushroom.

Now I had never heard of Forest Nameko mushrooms before (philiota nameka) but I was definitely intrigued. They were teeny tiny and long like enoki mushrooms but had a more pronounced brown cap. I had to come home and do a little research to figure out exactly how to use these guys to their full advantage. If I ever decide to make miso soup, I'll be looking for these mushrooms. They are also great in stir fries.

Also on the shelf- brown clamshell mushrooms. Lyophyllum shimeji is native to the Asian region and is a mushroom that needs to be cooked thoroughly to remove the bitter taste it has in its raw state. It works great in stir fries and any dish with wild game. Agrocybe aegerita, or velvet pioppini mushrooms, are very similar and were also available at the store today, as well as the more common oyster mushrooms, cremini, and shiitake

I chose the trumpet royale, maitake and oyster mushrooms for my risotto and bagged up my mushrooms. While the trumpets were quite pricey, and the maitake not much cheaper, I figured it was worth the splurge since I didn't need a huge pile of each, and the maitake clump weighs just about nothing. A quick spin around the store and I finished up my shopping- a bag or arborio rice, a nice crisp white wine, and a carton of chicken broth along with something easy for dinner tonight, and I was on my way, with a recipe building in my mind. The resulting risotto is the perfect dish for a light dinner- just grab a glass of nice white wine. It also serves well as a side dish for grilled seafood, filet mignon, or grilled marinated chicken.

A couple bacon wrapped steaks seared in a hot cast iron
skillet make a great accompaniment to risotto.
Risotto with Forest Mushrooms

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh wild mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks, sliced, white and light green parts
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
handful or two frozen peas, thawed
chopped fresh parsley

Clean the mushrooms and chop into evenly sized pieces. Thoroughly clean the leeks of any sand or grit and slice; mince the garlic; set aside. 

Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan and hold, covered.

In a large skillet, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until they start to soften. Add the leeks and saute until softened but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the rice to the skillet and stir to coat the rice with the butter. Add the wine to the skillet. Cook and stir until the wine has evaporated.

Begin adding the chicken stock a cup or two at a time. 

Stir while cooking. When the broth is absorbed, add more and continue until all the broth is incorporated and the rice is tender and creamy. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and peas. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve.

I have been seeing a number of "easy" risotto recipes making their way around the blogoshpere lately, even a baked version that promises to be no-stir risotto, but really, if you want the best dish, you need to invest the time to do it the right way, the real way, the Italian way. You will not regret it.

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