Thursday, April 22, 2010

Food as Low Art

When I was a know-nothing college kid way, WAY back in the day, the Fates put one Mr. McNally in my path. He was the resident manager at a historic inn where I had a part time job as a bellman. Mr. McNally was a true Renaissance Man (a term that makes me cringe). The guy must have known how clueless I was, but he took me under his wing nevertheless, and I got a priceless education on the finer things in life. He opened up new vistas into wine and food and art for me, and I'll never forget the two years I spent under his tutelage. I remember learning to read French wine labels and identifying the differences between Burgundy and Bordeaux grapes. He taught me how to tie a bow tie and what a collar stay was for. It was an experience more valuable than any college degree I might have earned.
At one of his memorable dinner parties, he showed me how to make risotto and my poor stepmother's Mexican rice recipe suffered for it by comparison. I've rarely made it in the interceding years; it is rather labor intensive, even for me. But a man-crush on Jamie Oliver prodded me into going to the trouble last night, and I'm oh so glad it did.
Grilled Mushroom Risotto - adapted from "jamie at home", by Jamie Oliver, © 2008, Hyperion
  • 3¼ cups chicken stock
  • ⅛ lb dried porcini mushrooms
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 8 oz risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
  • ¼ cup warm dry white wine
  • ¼ lb shiitake mushrooms
  • ¼ lb oyster mushrooms
  • ¼ lb crimini mushrooms
  • 1 lemon
  • Fresh tarragon
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • ⅛ cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper


Heat stock up in a saucepan and keep it on a low simmer.
Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl and pour in just enough hot stock to cover. Leave for a couple of minutes until they've softened. Fish them out of the stock and chop them, reserving the soaking liquid.
In a large saucepan, heat a glug of olive oil and add the onion and celery. Slowly fry without coloring for at least 10 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate, leaving behind the drippings in the pan. Add  another splash of olive oil, then stir in the rice and sauté it until it becomes translucent (this will take 7-10 minutes), stirring constantly to keep it from sticking.
Stir in the wine - it'll smell fantastic! Keep stirring until the liquid has cooked into the rice. Now pour the porcini soaking liquid through a sieve into the pan, add a good pinch of salt and your first ladle of hot stock. Let the liquid absorb into the rice.
Turn the heat down to a simmer, add the chopped porcini and sautéed vegetables and keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring and massaging the starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. This will take about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, get a dry griddle pan hot and grill the wild mushrooms until soft. Put them into a bowl and add the chopped herbs, a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Using your hands toss everything together - this is going to be incredible!
Take the risotto off the heat and check the seasoning carefully. Stir in the butter and the Parmesan cheese. I wanted a richer risotto, so stirred in a quarter cup of heavy cream along with the butter and cheese. This type of risotto is called mantecato, and is remarkably smooth. Cover the risotto and leave it to relax for about 3 minutes.
Serve a good dollop of risotto topped with some dressed mushrooms, a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Wow, that Jamie! No wonder I have such a crush on him. What he doesn't know about risotto and wild mushrooms isn't worth knowing. The herbed fungi and lemon elevated an already insanely cheesy and delicious meal to ridiculous heights. I practically licked the bottom of my bowl. I actually texted one of my buddies, comparing myself to the gods of Olympus. I'm not sure he fell for it, but wait 'til he tastes this risotto.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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