Friday, May 27, 2011

Spinach & Mushroom Risotto


I know I said I don't really like rice, and it is mostly true. I think of it as a thing that you eat with more interesting stuff. Risotto is not really just rice, though. It's a dish that calls for rice as an ingredient. Don't be put off because you find risotto on restaurant menus, it isn't complicated or difficult to make, and you don't even need special rice to do it. I know everybody says to use arborio or carneroli rice, but I read some instructions from a real Italian lady, and she said it doesn't matter. So I used sushi rice, and it turned out great. Also, it cooks faster than you would think. The whole recipe took me at most 45 minutes from "Oh what the hell do I cook?" to scarfing risotto while typing this post. This is a small recipe, good for a single-gal-sized dinner with a dab of leftovers in case I wake up ravenous at 4 AM. It happens.

a generous half cup of sushi rice
a cup of sliced brown button musrooms
2 green onions, finely sliced
butter and olive oil for frying
hot water and about 1/2 teaspoon broth concentrate
a pinch of fresh herbs, I used about 1 leaf of sage an an equal amount each of rosemary & thyme
a generous handful of baby spinach leaves
about 1 ounce of freshly grated parmesan

Put a kettle of water on to heat up while you chop the veggies.

Put about 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in a heavy skillet, and heat to medium. Saute the mushrooms and onions until the mushrooms loose about half their volume and start to look a little dry. Remove them from the pan.

If the mushroom goop in the pan looks pleasantly brown rather than burnt black, add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and dump in the rice. (If it is burnt, just rinse out the pan and start fresh.) Stir the rice around for one or two minutes until the grains start to get a little bit brown, then put the mushrooms back in. Pour in about 1/2 cup of hot water and stir it around quickly. Pour in another half cup when about 3/4 of the first round has disappeared. Add the broth concentrate somewhere around here. Keep stirring and adding water as the pan dries out. When the rice is about half cooked, add the herbs and pepper.

Eventually, a thick, smooth, sauce will develop around the grains and veggies. It's done when the rice is al dente. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the cheese and serve immediately.


1.  Keep the pan hot. The first cup of water should sizzle pretty vigorously in the pan. There should be continuous bubbling and stirring.
2.  As you cook, don't let it dry out completely. Let the sauce build up. The finished texture should be like a very rich savory porridge.
3. Most recipes call for stock, but I went with the broth concentrate because I could just drop the concentrate in the pan and add water as needed, instead of measuring out a pot of stock and then either having too much or too little. And having to wash another dish.
4. While the soup concentrate was an acceptable shortcut for me, anything but fresh cheese was not. The cheese contributes more to the flavor of the dish, and the stuff in the green can that goes on spaghetti does not taste the same at all. Also, fresh cheese melts and adds a creamy texture to the risotto, which green-can cheese, being quite dry, will not do.

I read about a dozen risotto recipes before making this. One thing I did not have was wine, which many recipes call for. It seems to be traditional to add a splash of a dry white in with the broth. Garlic is another common addition, but I just wasn't in the mood. Everything else is pretty much up for grabs. I read recipes with chicken, with asparagus, or fava beans, or broccoli, they had different sorts of cheeses, lots of recipes had lemon, and one that really made me think huh was a version with beets and sharp cheddar. I don't know that I'd like a cheddar flavored risotto, but I started thinking that pancetta or bacon and beets with some white wine and gruyere would be pretty nice. You can even make pretty decent vegan risotto, with a good vegetable stock. Just no soy cheese, for chrissakes, that stuff is so vile. If you go vegan, add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt just before serving to give it the richness that real cheese would add.


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