Mushroom Risotto: it’s worth it

By Tim O’Connor

Risotto may be the screaming child of Italian dishes, always demanding your attention, but it’s worth it.
It’s one of my favourite meals. I think I put it on the menu at Flora Hall so often just to make a little extra to scrape out before I drop the pan into the sink.
It’s a fairly straightforward dish to make at home, so long as you have a half-hour to sit over it. Start with a great stock, as the flavour of the stock will be the flavour of the risotto – a spinach broth makes a spinach risotto, a tomato broth makes a tomato risotto.

A simple chicken stock goes a long way. At the end you can add shredded chicken, or you can fry up some bacon to add, because everyone loves bacon.
Well, not everyone. Risotto is also a great vegetarian meal. However you make it, start with a simmering pot of hot stock, some chopped onion and garlic and a bottle of vino at hand to deglaze the pan, or whatever.

Note: I’ve never written down a recipe for risotto, so use a cup of rice or two, depending how much you want, and about four cups of stock per cup of rice.
Use quality rice – the better the arborio rice, the better your risotto will be. I use Acquerello brand, from Nicastro’s in the Glebe. It makes risotto a special treat.

Next you show that rich rice due respect and toast it. Warm your pan, add olive oil and canola oil, add rice and stir constantly until you see some golden brown on some grains – not every grain has to look coloured. This really pulls out the nuttiness. Toasting the rice has changed my risotto game.
Then add onions and garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir until the onions start to sweat, then turn down your pan to a light simmer and add enough wine to cover everything.

This is where the culinary child starts screaming, and you have to stir full time until done. Once the rice absorbs all the wine like Uncle Phil at a family dinner, start to add ladles of stock, again just enough to submerge the rice. You want both rice pan and stock pan to have similar simmers, so they’re close in temperature. That way the liquid is absorbed by the rice and doesn’t evaporate.
Keep repeating this process and after 10 or 12 minutes, taste your rice. You don’t want a crunch, but you don’t want it mushy. Once it’s just right, I add an obscene amount of butter, though that’s optional. I also add parmesan, though that’s optional too. You can also season with salt and pepper – but remember, that parm is salty.

Serve immediately. Put a few leaves of fresh arugula on top if you like, or basil, and perhaps a few sliced cherry tomatoes. Risotto is versatile and delicious. You’ll be scraping the last bits out of the pan too.

Tim O’Connor was raised in the Glebe and is head chef at Flora Hall Brewing.

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