Risotto Rush

RisottoAs soon as the weather cools, I rush to make risotto.  I know there are summery versions, but to me it is a fall/winter dish, as my favorite risotto includes the rich flavors of pancetta and porcini mushrooms (and sometimes truffle oil).  The one on the left also includes a scattering of other varieties of dried, wild, mushrooms from the northwest U.S.

I buy dried porcini whenever I see what look like good quality ones, intact slices with pale centers, not a bunch of broken up brown bits.  I rehydrate them in water (warm or almost hot), and save the liquid, which eventually goes into the pot.  I always keep pancetta on hand (carefully wrapping slices and freezing!), although of course you can use American style thick cut bacon instead. 

The recipe that follows is from an old friend, who adapted it from “Chez Panisse Cooking.”  When I make this, I just have a salad on the side, but she originally served it to me with roast chicken, which would be nice for a company meal. Mushroom Risotto

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms

½ cup warm to hot water

1 quarter-inch thick slice of pancetta, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter, divided

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice

½ cup dry white wine

2½ – 2 ¾ cups chicken broth, heated to simmer and kept warm

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving

1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley leaves

1 tablespoon white truffle oil, optional

salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Pour the water over the dried mushrooms and soak for 20 minutes, while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.  Drain the mushrooms, saving the soaking liquid.  Pass the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to remove any grit and reserve.
  2. In a medium-sized heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the pancetta.  Sauté pancetta until golden, remove with slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel.  Pour off most of the oil and fat in the pan, and add 1 tablespoon of the butter.
  3. Sauté the onion in the butter over medium heat until transparent, then add the rice and stir about one minute, until it becomes translucent.  Add the white wine, and stir until the rice absorbs almost all the wine.
  4. Add the porcini mushrooms, their liquid, the pancetta, and ½ cup of the hot chicken broth.  Stir over medium heat until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Keep repeating this, using ½ cup of broth for each addition.  Reserve ½ cup until the very end.  After 15-20 minutes the rice will be done (it should be slightly “al dente,” like pasta).  Turn off the heat, and stir in the last ½ cup of broth, the remaining tablespoon of butter, the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. (Remember the cheese is also salty.)
  5. Serve with parsley and additional cheese sprinkled onto each serving, and a few drops of truffle oil if desired.
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