Thursday, March 01, 2007

Parsnip Risotto with Shiitake Mushrooms

Risottos are one of my favorite cold weather meals. They are surprisingly easy to make and, for me, offer the same comfort-food satisfaction as a bowl of rich mac n' cheese.

Another nice thing about a risotto is how versatile a dish it is. You can put just about anything in a risotto. I had some parsnips to use, as well as some heavy-hitting pecorino romano I brought back from Rome, so with a risotto in mind I picked up some shiitake mushrooms at the farm shop on my way home today.

I never really use precise measurements when I make risotto (or in any cooking really, except baking where exact measurements are important--you know, chemistry and all). I just eyeball the proportions according to what I think would taste good. However, here I've tried to give approximate measurements to be helpful.

Here are my ingredients, so you can see the ratio I'm using and how I've chopped everything: one very large parsnip peeled and cut into small cubes; three cloves of garlic peeled and minced; and about 10-15 shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped.

I've also included two small, diced onions (not pictured). Many risotto recipes will instruct you to mince the onions, and I agree that most of the time that makes for a nicer texture. But tonight I was feeling a little lazy, so I diced them (resulting in larger pieces). All this means is that the finished risotto will be a little more "rustic" which, tonight, is fine by me.

Risotto is usually made with arborio rice. It's a variety that, when cooked, releases a lot of its starch which is what produces the risotto's creaminess. Isn't it a lovely grain? Very pearly. I'm using one and a half cups, because that feels like a good ratio to my veggie ingredients, above.

You'll also need about 6 cups of stock (or water). Get this simmering on the stove before you start cooking. You'll need it to be hot because you'll be adding it little by little to the rice and if it's not hot it will halt the cooking. Keep it covered so it doesn't evaporate too much as you work.

You'll also need good Italian cheese (parmesan, pecorino, etc.) Buy good stuff--in my opinion, the quality of the cheese can make or break a risotto. Here's my heart-stopping pecorino (I'll use about a cup or a cup and half, grated):

Finally, a few words about mushrooms before we get cooking. First, don't wash them! Mushooms are little sponges. If you submerge them or run them under the tap, they'll absorb water and consequently their flavor will be less intense. Instead, wet a paper towel and just brush off any dirt. Depending on the mushroom, you may want to remove the stem. If you are using plain button mushrooms, this isn't necessary. But for some of the wilder varieties I find the stem woody and hard to cut. My rule of thumb is: if it feels like it would be unpleasant in my mouth, I remove it.

Finally, the best way to store mushrooms is in a plain paper bag at room temperature--this keeps them in optimal condition (for a short period!) in terms of flavor, texture, and moisture level.

OK, let's begin.

Start off by heating a few tablespoons of olive oil and some butter (1 tablesppoon at least) in a large saucepan (medium-high heat). Add chopped onions and parsnip and sautee for 7-10 minutes.

When the onions and parsnips have softened somewhat, add the garlic and mushroom and cook 3-5 more minutes.

Now, add the arborio rice and stir so it gets coated with the butter and oil. Keep stirring and sautee for about a minute.

Now, add enough stock to just cover the rice. Stir.

Keep an eye on the heat--you don't want the bottom to stick, and it shouldn't be boiling, just gently, barely bubbling.

Once the stock has absorbed, gradually add more as the rice aborbs it(about 1/4 C at a time) and stir frequently, making sure to scrape the bottom.

It takes about 20-25 minutes for the rice to become tender. If you run out of stock and the rice isn't done, you can add hot water.

Once the rice is done, add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the cheese. Serve immediately!
We've drizzed ours with a little truffle oil before eating. And we're having a side of sauteed brussels sprout tops tossed in olive oil.


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