Making a risotto is the most common way that Italians use rice. Risottos are rice cooked by the slow incorporation of a stock or broth (known as a brodo) to rice until it becomes creamy. This creaminess is acheived by the starch leaching out of the rice grains and combining with the stock through slow absorption.
The beauty of a risotto is that it can be made using a variety of ingredients and different kinds of stock, with the combination of ingredients left entirely up to the cook and their flavour palette. Some common risotto inclusions are; asparagus, artichoke, eggplant, fennel, peas, pumpkin, lobster, prawns, mussels, squid, smoked salmon, tuna, chicken, sausage, lamb, mixed cheeses… and the list is endless.
A good risotto takes a little bit of practice to begin with and always a lot of concentration. They are very sensitive to timing, and due to the texture being best when consumed the moment cooking has concluded, a risotto is actually far better home-made than served in a restaurant.
The lynch pin of a risotto is most definitely the rice. There are three varieties of risotto rice – Arborio, Carnaroli and Nano – and the reason you will need to use one of these three is that risotto rice has a ‘pearl’ in the centre (other varieties of rice do not have this). If you inspect a grain of risotto rice carefully you will be able to see the white pearl in the middle of the grain. When cooking, the outside starch dissolves into the liquid and the pearl absorbs it and swells, creating the desired risotto texture. Also, the outcome of your risotto will be dependant on the quality of your rice – so pay a little more for an artisan grain if you can.
Enough of a risotto lesson, now on to my favourite variety… the mushroom risotto. There is something spectacular about a mushroom risotto, the earthiness of the mushroom combined with the creaminess of the risotto is like heaven and earth all at the same time.
I realised recently that in the 3+ years Scotty and I have been together, I have never made him a risotto – what a bad Italian girlfriend I am! So I rectified my oversight this weekend and served up my best risotto yet. Using asian mushrooms, lemon zest, lemon thyme and a porcini mushroom infused stock, then topped with crispy baked prosciutto shards, this risotto was heavenly. I am glad I added the lemon and the prosciutto (last minute decisions) as it added a zing and crunch that I often think a risotto needs to counteract the creaminess.
In other news… these photos were all taken at night with my new lowel ego lights (I bought two and set them up either side of the subject with a bounce card at the back). They were a cinch to set up and I’m pretty happy with the results. At least now I can stop cooking ‘Linner’ (dinner at lunch time) to take advantage of the daylight.
MUSHROOM AND CRISPY PROSCIUTTO RISOTTO
50g shiitake mushrooms, sliced
50g king oyster mushrooms, halved and sliced
50g enoki mushrooms, ends removed
15g dried porcini mushrooms
1L chicken stock (or vegetable)
3/4 cup dry white wine
80g butter, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 sprigs lemon thyme
Zest, 1/2 lemon
2 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
1/4 cup continental parsley, roughly chopped
4 slices Prosciutto
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine stock and wine in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, add dried porcini mushrooms and stir to mix. Leave to simmer with lid on (you need to use simmering stock for your risotto as if you use cold stock you will shock the rice, which will flake on the outside and stay hard at the core).
In a large frying pan combine olive oil and butter until melted. When hot add onion and sautee until transparant. Add shiitake, king oyster mushrooms, garlic, lemon zest and lemon thyme leaves, and cook, stirring regularly, for 3 – 4 four minutes until mushrooms have softened.
Preheat oven to 240 degrees celcius and place prosciutto without overlapping on a tray lined with baking paper)
Add the arborio rice and stir until the grains are glossy and glassy. Add a ladleful of stock and porcini mushrooms from the saucepan to the frypan and stir until the stock is completely absorbed. Repeat with all remaining stock stirring continually and allowing each ladleful to be absorbed prior to adding the next. Cook until the rice is tender (but still al dente) and the risotto is creamy (this takes about 30 minutes). If you are close to finishing the stock mixture but the rice still has a crunch, add a little more wine, stock or water to the simmering saucepan to extend the amount of liquid.
5 minutes before the rice is ready, place the tray with prosciutto into the oven and bake until prosciutto is a dark golden colour (about 10 minutes)
Add the enoki mushrooms to the frypan and cook for 3 minutes, stirring. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley, parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and let rest for 2-3 minutes.
Remove prosciutto slices from oven and allow to cool for a couple of minutes before breaking into small crispy pieces.
Serve in individual bowls and top with more grated parmesan and crispy prosciutto pieces. Enjoy! Eat it as soon as possible, while the risotto retains its beautiful texture.