Our family loves mushrooms! We eat them almost every day, and when we locate local, wild varieties, it’s a moment. We are lucky to live in an area where many Vermont farmers are expanding their crops to include cultivation of our wild varieties, so farm stands and farmers’ markets often have these treasures on their shelves in abundance.
Mushrooms are great additions to soups, stews, and omelets, or as a side or topping. There’s nothing better than mushrooms sautéed in butter and olive oil served atop a toasted piece of sourdough baguette (my grandson’s favorite after-school snack!), or just a simple bowl of mushroom soup.
But when I say wild mushrooms to my family, they immediately think risotto. It is one of our favorites because it is both delicious and fun to create. We make an evening of it and prepare our feast together, taking turns ladling the broth, and digging in with great appreciation for the simple things in life.
This traditional Italian rice dish is created by slowly adding hot broth in batches to “Arborio” a short-grained, starchy rice, which is now widely available. The already flavorful local mushrooms get an extra flavor boost in this recipe with the support of the dried*; I dry my own maitaki mushrooms, but you can use what you like, porcini is a good substitute. For an even deeper flavor, you can replace some of the wine with cognac. I’ve experimented with different cheeses; Parmesan is the classic, but Vermont Shepherd’s “Verano” is my new favorite in this dish, its nuttiness pairs beautifully with the mushrooms, and local is always best. The cheese is not essential, but adds a nice touch, so if you re vegan, don’t hesitate to simply leave out the cheese.
Although absolutely delicious, I must confess, mushroom risotto is rather a boring dish to look at. I’m sorry but it is brown on brown, and has to be dressed up, especially if company is coming! I add the peas for color and a pop of texture. You could use asparagus in spring, or green beans in the summer, whatever is fresh and in season. The red pepper is here to provide a colorful accessory. The parsley is pretty, too, and the lemon brightens it up, but it doesn’t hurt to serve it with bright orange carrots on the side, and I always reserve some of the sautéed fresh mushrooms for garnish.
We prep everything early in the day, then share the cooking and ritual ladling of the broth together. It’s a nice time to talk to each other, and there are no hands available for holding electronic devices!
Wild Mushroom Risotto
1 oz. dried mushrooms of choice*
2 cups water
1 quart vegetable, mushroom, or chicken stock, heated
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tbsp. butter
1 lb. mixed fresh oyster and shiitake mushrooms
2 large shallots, fine dice
¼ cup red pepper, fine dice
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup grated Vermont Shepherd or Parmesan cheese
Zest and juice of one lemon
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Place the dried mushrooms in two cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for at least a half hour. Remove the mushrooms from their broth and dice them up if there are large pieces, and set aside. Combine the mushroom broth with the quart of vegetable stock, and place on a low burner to heat to a simmer. Don’t skip this step, you need the broth hot as you add it to the rice.
Cut the fresh oyster mushrooms into one-inch pieces, and slice the shiitakes, but leave the odd one whole for visual interest. Dice the rest of the vegetables and have them ready.
In a deep skillet, over medium-high, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil and the butter. Add the fresh mushrooms and sauté until they are fragrant and browning. Remove from the pan and set aside with the reserved rehydrated mushrooms.
Return the pan to the heat; don’t wash it, you want to make use of the glaze on the inside of the pan, this is gold! Add the rest of the olive oil and the shallots and red peppers. Sauté until soft, and add the garlic, stirring for a minute or so until the fragrance is released.
Reduce the heat to just over medium, add the rice, and stir until completely coated with the oil; you don’t want to brown it, but you want it to get well mixed with the vegetables and oil. Add the wine to deglaze, and stir until it is almost totally absorbed by the rice. This won’t take long. Reduce the heat to just under medium.
Once the wine is absorbed, ladle the stock to the rice a label or two at a time. Stir until a wooden spoon makes an almost dry trail through the rice, then add more liquid. Adjust the heat as necessary; you want it to be bubbly, but not a fierce boil. The rice will begin to release its starch and start to thicken the liquids.
The process of adding the stock and stirring should take from 17 to 20 minutes. You want the sauce to be creamy, and the rice grains to be separate, but still with body or “tooth” to it. Your end result will be a loose plate of soft, creamy rice that moves as you tilt your plate.
Once you are at the right consistency, stir in the reserved fresh mushrooms (save a few for garnish), the lemon zest and juice, the peas, and the cheese. Sprinkle with the parsley, a squeeze more of lemon, and garnish your plate with some colorful veggies.
Modern Technique: You can also bake this dish in the oven if you are juggling too many balls to have the time to stand over the pot and stir. Begin the recipe as above, using a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid. Once you have sautéed the vegetables and coated the rice add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed. Add 3 cups of the mushroom broth/stock, bring to a boil, cover the pan, and place in a preheated 350-degree oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, stirring a couple of times in the process. When the rice is done, return to the burner and add a little more broth. Stir well, until the creaminess comes out of the rice. Use your judgement here. The texture of the rice should still move on the plate when you tilt it. Add the cheese and garnishes, and serve.
*Dried mushrooms can be readily found, but read the package carefully. In recent years, China has flooded the market with extremely cheap dried mushrooms with unknown quality control. Avoid these! There are some good varieties of dried from Pennsylvania widely available, and from many other states, or you can even dry your own.