When I was a kid, risotto was one of the most time-consuming dishes I could think of. I have many memories of watching rice boil in the pan for what felt like hours, pestering my mother with an incessant stream of “mum, is it ready yet?”; the universal key to annoying a weary parent, triggering the universal repertory of icy stares and brisk orders to get the hell out of the kitchen. Minutes seemed to stretch endlessly, just like the void in my stomach; a capricious, exacting void, that demanded to be filled immediately. Risotto was never ready quickly enough, and once it was, it seemed to mock my burning desire to be fed: the first forkful, always eaten in a comically childish haste, never failed to give me scorching palate burns.
I won’t blame you for picturing my childhood self as a seasoned drama queen; you’re quite right, in fact. My own risotto-making experiences proved that the “hours” I used to spend waiting beside the stove were nothing but twenty-odd minutes. The basic recipe for risotto is really as quick and simple as my mum made it to be: all it takes is a miraculously short list of ingredients, and the mastery of three gestures. If you can chop ingredients without cutting yourself, handle hot stock without getting burnt, and stir for minutes on end without getting bored, you’re good to go.
I have memories of eating risotto on cold, drizzly days, just like the ones London has been throwing at us in this miserably grey late summer. The city seems oblivious to my pleas for more heatwaves, and as the chill of autumn and winter approaches, risotto is beginning to make increasingly frequent appearances at my table. To be fair, though, I could eat it in any season, with any kind of weather: sausage risotto and mushroom risotto are among my favourite mains all year round, perfect for a lazy, fuss-free weekend lunch.
This mushroom risotto recipe lends itself well to many variations that enhance its comfort food factor. All the loved ones I’ve eaten it with have their own favourite version. Ask my dad, the lover of unusual ingredients, and he’ll invite you to pour generous helpings of truffle oil in the mix. Ask my mum, the dairy fiend, and she’ll say you should cream your risotto with much more butter than my recipe calls for. Ask my uncle, the family’s fine chef, and he’ll come up with all sorts of fancy tweaks: a little sausage to enrich the flavour, a little white pepper right before serving, a few parmesan shavings to decorate. If you ask me, though, you can hardly go wrong with the basic recipe. It’s so straightforward, and requires so little of your attention, that you’ll be back under your blanket in no time, watching raindrops race on your window while lunch is cooking. If a dreary, wet autumn is what we’re destined to, the least we can do is welcome it with a meal that warms our hearts.
- 50g butter
- 1/4 onion, chopped
- 250g closed cup white mushrooms or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
- 4 fistfuls Arborio rice (or 2 fistfuls per person)
- 1 glass white wine (optional)
- 1 1/2 – 2 pints vegetable stock
- Salt, black pepper and parsley, to your taste
- Melt 20g butter in a large pot, then add the onion, and cook until golden.
- Add the rice and white wine and stir well. Leave on a low heat to cook until most of the wine has been absorbed. If you’re not using wine, simply replace it with a ladle of vegetable stock.
- Pour in a ladle of vegetable stock and stir gently. When the rice has soaked up most of the stock, pour in more and repeat until the rice is cooked through; it should take around 20 – 25 minutes.
- Add larger quantities of stock at the beginning, then pour less and less stock as time passes; you risk overcooking the rice if you add too much liquid at the later stages. After the first 15 minutes, I usually taste a few grains of rice before adding further helpings; that helps me understand how much cooking the rice still needs, and how many more ladles of stock it requires.
- While the rice is cooking, melt the remaining 20g butter in a separate pan, then add the mushrooms and cook for about 10 – 15 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and parsley towards the end.
- As the last helping of stock is absorbed, add the mushrooms to the pot and stir gently. Add more salt, pepper and parsley if needed.
- Divide up the risotto into portions, decorate with the remaining mushrooms and a sprinkle of parsley, and serve hot.