Somewhere in the vast and dusty catalogue of my memories lies a particular recollection of enjoying the most succulent risotto at my cousin’s flat in Rome. Now, being as this was way back in my sophomore year of high school, and let’s face it, who can remember that far back with clarity, this may or may not have in fact taken place. The risotto might have been crap. However, seeing as my cousin Stefano and his wife Daniela are both divine and thoroughly enjoy making and eating good food, this seems unlikely. What could in fact have been the case is that I ate that particularly delicious risotto in some little trattoria in Trastevere and supplanted the experience into the cozy environment of family.
There is a certain something about food you eat in Italy, something inexplicable, something indelible. It cannot be denied that the simplicity and the freshness of ingredients go a long way in Italy dishes. Yet I would not be at all surprised to find that Italian chefs simply charm their ingredients into mouthwatering, heart wrenching delicitude (yeah, well it should be a word) with the sheer power of their dark emotive eyes and smooth olive skin.
Years later I found myself yet again in Italy, though this time studying in Florence. With the Mercato Centrale literally a stone’s throw from my window (no really, I tried) I had the world of fresh Italian ingredients at my fingertips. Naturally I set out to recreate the risotto of my memories. I won’t lie to you folks, being it was my first solo go at risotto and I was winging it sans recipe, it wasn’t the most towering success. However, I’ve stuck at it for years and though I’ve given it my personal touch (namely the sage, my favorite herb) I can now safely say that I would rather eat this than any risotto I have had since leaving Italy. I may be making several people weep by sharing this recipe, but hey spread the love right? And Brad, eat your heart out cuz.
Risotto ai Funghi e Salvia
This recipe can be easily adapted for vegetarians by simply omitting the chicken and substituting veggie broth.
- Olive oil
- ½-¾ large onion, chopped
- ¾ lb boneless, skinless chicken breast chopped into 1” pieces
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- About 4 cups mushrooms (porcini, shitake, crimini are all fine), chopped
- 5-6 cups chicken or veggie scrap stock
- 1 ½ cups dry white wine (good enough to have a glass as you stir)
- 1 heaping Tbsp. fresh sage, finely chopped
- 1 heaping Tbsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped
- Medium sized bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Coarse sea salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan
Heat a generous amount of olive oil (about 2 Tbsp.) in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and aromatic. Add in the chicken if using and cook, stirring, until you can no longer see any pink on the meat.
Add in the Arborio and cook, stirring, and adding a splash more oil if necessary, until the rice becomes translucent. Stir in the mushrooms and ½ cup of wine. Cook until absorbed. Begin to add in the stock, with about 1 cup initially and ½ cup increments thereafter, stirring regularly. Intersperse with a ¼ cup of wine, three times during the process. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Add more stock as it simmers off. Constant stirring isn’t necessary but you do not want the bottom to stick or scorch; about every 2 minutes should be fine.
After about 20 minutes, sample the rice. If it is soft with just a bit of firmness in the middle (think just south of al dente) add the final ¼ cup wine and cook off the liquid until the mixture is moist but not soupy. Add the sage, oregano, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ¼ cup parmesan and most of the parsley. Garnish with the rest of the parmesan and parsley, serve immediately.
Serves a happy family of about 6.