Near the beginning of the each month, we go through the new book list provided by our public library, checking to see if there is anything of interest. Between the books that have arrived in the previous month and the new book orders, we always find at least a dozen, and, often, far more, books that we want to check out. Fortunately, the book lists coordinate with our reserve lists, so it’s a few simple clicks, and, depending on how many other people have reserved a particular book, it will soon show up at our designated branch, awaiting check-out. It’s a great way to look through and try new cookbooks to see if we like them; that’s how we found today’s recipe: Risotto ai porcini e mirtilli.
We both happen to love Italian food, so, when we saw Pasta: Classic and Contemporary Pasta, Risotto, Crespelle, and Polenta Recipes, by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, and Francesco Tonelli, on the library’s new book list, we immediately reserved it. And we are glad we did. It is chock-a-block with great-sounding recipes that we can hardly wait to try. But, for our Sunday dinner, we started with this one, although we’ve modified it to match our style of cooking risotto.
For those who worry about making risotto, that it’s too hard, it’s really not; however, you do need to pay attention while you’re cooking. So, let’s just get scratchin’, and try it.
First off, don’t even try to make risotto without an appropriate rice. You will be underwhelmed with the result, so, buy arborio rice or another appropriate rice. When it comes to the wine, it really does add something to risotto. We can’t say what, but, we can tell immediately when it’s not there, so we don’t consider that optional. Use a wine that you like, but we recommend using a Pinot Grigio. We use porcini mushrooms because they have a lot of flavor, and, by using the dried variety, we also get a good mushroom broth, so it’s like a two-for-one deal. Finally, as always, the grated stuff in a green shaker can is not Parmesan cheese.
Procedure in detail:
Rehydrate porcinis. We put our porcini mushrooms into a Pyrex measuring cup. That way, we could just pour boiling water over the top until we got to the 2-cup line. Regardless of how you do it, get those porcinis soaking in boiling water for about an hour. After they’ve rehydrated, we drain the broth through a coffee filter, making sure to reserve it for cooking the risotto. The last thing we do is to rinse the mushrooms to eliminate any grit that might have gotten stuck. Sure, it’s a bit more trouble, but a few pieces of grit in your risotto … ugh.
Heat mushroom broth. Transfer the reserved mushroom broth to a saucepan and add about a cup of water. Place on medium heat and bring to a simmer. You’ll want to keep the broth simmering all the while you make the risotto, as you’ll be adding hot broth a little at a time.
Cook garlic clove. Pour the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add the garlic clove. Yes, add the whole clove and let it sizzle and turn a light brown, about 2 to 4 minutes.
Add mushrooms. Now, add the mushrooms, trying to get them in a single layer on the bottom of the saucepan. Careful, the oil will spatter. Let them sizzle in the hot oil until they start to brown on one side, about 3 to 5 minutes. Then stir to flip the mushrooms over to let the other sides get the chance to brown up nicely, another 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl (we just used the same measuring cup that we used for rehydration) and set aside. Discard the garlic clove.
Cook onions. Lower the heat under the saucepan to medium-low, add the butter and onions, and cook until the onions are very tender and soft, about 5 minutes or so. You want to cook the onions up to the point at which they’re just beginning to brown. Just the slightest hint of brown is perfect, but err on the side of no brown.
Add rice. Pour in the arborio rice and stir around to coat the rice in melted butter. You should let the rice fry in the butter for about a minute, but no more than 2 minutes, while you stir continuously. The 2-minute maximum is to avoid having the outer part of the rice grains cook and seal. If they seal, they’ll take longer to cook; plus, they won’t release the starch necessary for making the creamy sauce.
Add wine. Pour in the wine and stir. Keep stirring until almost all wine is absorbed into the rice, about 5 minutes. The wine not only adds flavor, but the alcohol in the wine releases flavors that are alcohol-soluble but not water-soluble, so it really does have a purpose in cooking. It’s not just so the cook can have a glass (or two).
Add mushrooms. Add the porcini mushrooms, stir, add about 1/2 cup of the hot mushroom broth, and stir again. Now we’ll get ready for really cooking the risotto, so take a sip of wine, and soldier on.
Cook risotto. The key to risotto is to keep adding small amounts of hot broth as broth is absorbed by the cooking rice. That means, until the rice is done, stir the rice, and add another 1/4 cup of broth when almost all the broth has been absorbed. If you run low on broth, quickly bring water to a boil and use that in place of broth. After 20 minutes or so, taste a grain of rice to see if it’s done; when cooked all the way through, the outer part is tender, but the core of the grain is still slightly chewy. If it’s not done, add more broth and check again in a few minutes. Our risotto generally takes about 30 minutes before it’s just right.
Add blueberries and cream. Yes, we know it sounds like a dessert, but add the blueberries and the cream and stir gently to combine. Try not to crush any of the blueberries into the rice. If you do, that’s okay, too, but one of the keys to this is to bite into a warm blueberry as you eat it.
Add cheese and season. Now, stir in the cheese, wait a minute for it to melt a bit, then stir some more so it’s mixed throughout the risotto. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately. Traditionally, risotto is served on large plates. Why? Well, it’s a tradition, so we did. Then we sprinkled the top with a small amount of grated Grana Padano, and finished up with a few blueberries on top as a garnish.
Until reading this recipe, we don’t think we would have thought of adding blueberries to a decidedly savory dish such as risotto. But it works. And it works well. It was always a good surprise when we would bite into a blueberry and find that, instead of being sweet like blueberry pie, they were more savory, with just the slightest hint of sweetness. We’ll be keeping blueberries in mind for other savory dishes. The risotto itself turned out delicious, and we were glad we had some leftovers (we made risotto-stuffed peppers the next day). We really liked the seared mushrooms — we followed the method in the Pappardelle with Mushrooms, which we loved — it really seems to bring out a lot of flavors that would otherwise get missed. Overall, this was a five-star meal.