It had been a long time since we’d had risotto — perhaps as long as a couple of months, a very long time for us — which is especially surprising, because risotto is often thought of as a fall and winter dish. A bit heavier than a light pasta, quite warming and nourishing, just the thing to get you through a chilly night. Of course, here in Tucson, we’re just glad to be able to open our windows at night; we forget that it’s heading on for winter.
So, we started to think about making a risotto, and we thought we’d go with something a bit different, perhaps something to match the season, at least a little bit. Something with those apples that we’d picked several weeks ago. Searching the archives, we found this recipe and thought it fit the bill. A risotto with apples and walnuts. What could be more like fall? For the most part, we followed the recipe that you’d find in the book Pasta, by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, and Francesco Tonelli, except that we didn’t use the dry Marsala, as we almost never have red wines in the house. Whites, yes; reds tend to have a bit too much tannin taste for us. We also scaled back the recipe to something more appropriate for two.
Arborio rice is grown especially for risotto. While there are other rices that are appropriate for risotto, such as carnaroli, arborio is the easiest to find. You cannot substitute ordinary rice in risotto, as you won’t get the creamy texture of good risotto. For the broth, we use the water from rehydrating mushrooms and/or any vegetable broth we have saved from cooking. Grana Pardano is an Italian cheese made in the same style as Parmesan. The main difference is that it isn’t made in Parma, so it can’t be called Parmesan. That and it’s less expensive. Whether you use Parmesan or Grana Pardano, please realize that freshly grated is best.
Procedure in detail:
We have two things that must be cooked at the same time, then combined partway through. While you should do these at pretty much the same time, we’ll write up the mushroom and apples part first, especially since they can be held on low heat until needed.
Toast garlic. In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, fry the garlic clove in oil until it’s golden brown. Yep, toss the clove in whole (after peeling, of course), and let it sizzle for about 5 to 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
Add mushrooms and apples. Once the garlic is a golden brown, add the mushrooms and apples. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden and the apples are tender, but not falling apart.
Add wine. Add about a quarter-cup of wine, and let it simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Remove garlic and reduce heat to keep everything warm until needed.
Now, we’ll start on the risotto. If you’ve cooked risotto before, this is old hat to you. The only thing you need to remember is to add half of the apple and mushroom mixture halfway through. If this is your first time making risotto, make sure your broth is simmering in another saucepan, and follow along.
Cook onions. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, about 3 quarts in size, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When melted, add onions and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. You don’t want the onions to brown, just to become nice and tender.
Add rice. Stir in the arborio rice until coated and let cook for just a minute, stirring about every 15 seconds. Do not cook much longer than a minute, and definitely keep it under 2 minutes, or the starch changes and will not release from the rice grains, eliminating the nice creaminess of finished risotto.
Add wine. Yep, pour about a quarter-cup of wine over the rice and stir. Keep stirring until most of the wine is absorbed.
Cook risotto. This is the secret to risotto: adding the hot broth a little at a time. So, add about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of hot broth to the rice. Stir continuously until most the broth is absorbed, then add more broth. Continue doing this for about 10 minutes (the risotto is about halfway done at this point).
Add mushroom and apples. Now stir in about half of the apple-mushroom mixture. If there’s any broth from the apples and mushrooms, stir the rice and cook until it’s almost gone.
Continue cooking risotto. Continue the process of adding a bit of hot broth, stirring until it’s gone, then adding more broth until the rice is done, about another 10 to 20 minutes. When it’s done, the rice will be tender on the outside, and just a bit chewy on the inside. Too long and you’ll have mush, so taste-test often.
Finish. Stir in the grated Grana Pardano and 2 tablespoon of butter until they both melt and the risotto is creamy. If needed, you can add a bit more broth or butter, but not so much that the risotto is soupy or greasy.
Adjust seasoning. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Serve. Scoop risotto onto plates, place a piece or two of fontina cheese on top, and divide the remaining mushroom and apple mixture on top of the cheese. Finally, top with the chopped walnuts.
Risotto is one of our all-time favorites. It seems as though we’ve not had a risotto that we didn’t like (except in restaurants where they don’t have the time to prepare it properly), and this one was no exception. It was quite tasty, but we’d say the neither the fontina nor the apples really helped. It wasn’t that they hurt, either; actually, it was more that they didn’t add anything, in particular. Fontina cheese seems too mild for this dish; the flavor just gets overwhelmed by the porcini mushrooms, and the same could be said for the apples. So, to us, it seemed as if we’d be better off using the fontina and apples in another dish. The walnuts, however, were a great addition, as they added a nice nutty flavor and a toothy bite. We think that more of our risottos could stand to benefit from the addition of nuts. Four stars