Risotto is fabulous. Mushroom risotto is, unfortunately, also one of the default vegetarian dishes in restaurants. Good things its so good, pity chefs can’t be more creative. When eating this out, it’s always worth asking what cheese they use. Parmesan, real, honest actual, from Italy, D.O.P Parmesan, isn’t vegetarian. ‘Italian-style hard cheese’, a perfectly good substitute that lots of places won’t admit to using, often is.
Home-made mushroom risotto can be not just vegetarian, but cheese-free. This recipe is not true to the Italian: Italian risotto uses oodles of butter and mountains of cheese. That, and slow stirring, is what gives the final dish its rich flavour and silky texture. You can easily replace the oil in this with a knob of butter to add that creamy flavour. You can also use hard cheese instead of soft to make it more authentic.
Serves: 4 with salad and bread, 2 hungry people as dinner. Prep: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 20-30 minutes.
Stores: In the fridge, for a couple of days. In the freezer, up to three months.
- Chopping board
- Wooden spoon
- Measuring jug
- Cup measure (optional)
- Tablespoon measure (or tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon oil (or a knob of butter)
- 1 onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 260 grams risotto rice (half a normal packet, or a heaped cup measure). Risotto rice is short-grained. It doesn’t have to be Arborio, although that is the rice associated with risotto in this country, any short-grained rice will do.
- 250 grams mushrooms (1 pack)
- 1 tablespoon stock powder, or one cube of vegetable stock
- 700 ml hot water
- 150 ml white wine (optional – if not using, swap for hot water)
- 3 tablespoons cream cheese (about 1/4 of a standard pack) or half a cup of grated hard Italian-style cheese (all cheese is optional)
- Chop the onion.
- Heat the oil and cook the onion until soft.
- Add the garlic and rice and cook for about a minute.
- Boil the kettle.
- Make up most of the cooking liquid: put the stock in a measuring jug, add half a litre of hot water and the wine.
- Start adding cooking liquid to the rice: add about a fifth of what’s in the measuring jug. Stir. And continue to stir. Stirring helps the texture. Adding the liquid bit by bit helps you control the texture too and avoiding an overly wet risotto.
- When the rice has absorbed, add a quarter of the remaining liquid. Stir.
- Continue until you’ve used up all the liquid. If the rice is still hard, or has a hard kernel, add more liquid (you’ve added 650 ml so have another 150 to play with. Or as much as you need to get the right texture).
- When the rice is done (after 20-30 minutes of stirring and adding liquid), stir in the cheese.
- Serve with a grinding of black pepper and/or a sprinkling of grated hard cheese (if using).
- Orange! Swap out the mushrooms for half a fairly finely chopped (1 cm cubes) butternut squash that goes in with the onion. By the time the rice is done, the butternut squash should be soft.
- Pink! Swap out the mushrooms for a couple of grated beetroot. It cooks as the rice does.
- Green! Swap out the mushrooms for a cup of frozen peas. Add them towards the end so that they thaw and get hot but they don’t overcook. Overcooked peas go wrinkly and lose their colours. They still taste alright but they’re not as attractive.
- Yellow and pale green! Swap the mushrooms for a small tin of sweetcorn and a stick of thinly slices celery, add the juice of one or two lemons to the cooking liquor. Sounds weird, I know, but it’s really good.
- Barley! Swap out the rice for pearl barley. The flavour and texture will be different and you might need less liquid. Barley has a subtle flavour and great chew. Made with barley, its no longer a risotto but an orzotto. Still tastes good.
- Woody! There are all kinds of things you can do to change the flavour of risotto. I like to add 3-4 crushed juniper berries with the cooking liquid to add a deeply earthy, woody flavour. Thyme is more subtle in flavour and also goes well with mushrooms, especially when fresh.