it was warm outside, even warm enough to eat out, at the small, deli-like (in lighting, at least) trattoria on the edge of the campo near where the city buses stop. the waitstaff thought i was hysterical, on my own with my dog-eared paperback novel and little map of the city. i remember that i wasn’t in the mood for pasta, or meat, and that i noticed a dish of rice and mushrooms. but first i devoured a plate of parma ham and fresh mozzarella, all wrapped up with each other, while i waited for the risotto to arrive.
most people, i think, go on vacation and come back dreaming of local pastries, or gelato, or the special teas or wines or home-made pastas or baguettes or croissants or macaroons or a myriad of other things that one can seemingly experience properly only while traveling. for me, my life-changing meal was this plate of risotto--which was, incidentally, an enormous bowl that was much too much food for poor little me. and yet i was so taken with it that i could think of little else for the rest of my trip. i even went back to the same trattoria on another evening just to experience it--the creaminess, the bite, the texture of the rice--all over again.
it was nearly two years after my return that i first ventured into a kitchen to attempt the feat on my own. silly me, i thought it would be simple, the matter of less than an hour, surely, on a quiet friday night. but the risotto had the last laugh. it quite kicked my ass. there was too much of it, it was undercooked, underspiced, i had no cooking wine, and i hated onions and so declined to saute them with the aromatics. i bravely left it in the fridge for nearly a week, convinced that i would find the stomach for it, but i was forced to admit defeat when it started growing little burrs of greenish fuzz.
however, two years again since my first failed attempt, i am pleased to report that risotto served as my comfort food, my indulgence, as the cap of a 3-day weekend. with porcini mushrooms, parma ham, and fresh mozzarella, if you please.
risotto with porcini mushrooms
(adapted from williams-sonoma's italian cookbook)
8 cups chicken stock
½ cup porcini mushrooms, dried
½ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ lb. wild mushrooms, fresh, stems removed. shiitake, portobello, oyster
½ lb. white mushrooms
3 cups arborio / carnaorli rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
bring stock to a simmer, remove from heat.
add dried porcini. let soak for 20 minutes.
drain mushrooms through cheesecloth, reserving the stock.
return stock to saucepan and simmer over medium heat.
maintain at a gentle simmer, low heat.
chop dried porcini.
heat olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
add fresh mushrooms and cook until softened (about 5 minutes).
add porcini and 1/2 C of the simmering stock and cook until thickened (about 5 minutes).
using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a bowl. set aside.
add the rice to the same pan.
stir over medium heat until each grain is translucent with a white dot in the center (about 3 minutes).
add the wine. stir until completely absorbed.
add the stock 1 ladleful at a time, stirring frequently. wait until stock is absorbed before adding next ladleful. reserve 1/4 C of stock for the end.
after about 18 minutes, add the mushrooms and extra ladleful of stock.
cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are heated (2-3 minutes).
remove from heat and stir in the butter and reserved 1/4 C of stock.