On Saturday I brought lunch to some friends who just had a baby. Bringing a meal was my excuse to hold their son, only two weeks in this world, and congratulate them. He fell asleep in my arms, cocooned and warm and sighing.
Food is such a natural way to celebrate, and with new parents it’s a way to feel helpful despite entering into their rapidly transitioning world. The weather was a Portland Fall favorite—sudden torrential downpours that last about five minutes. Given the weather and the energy it takes to care for a newborn, I wanted to bring them something hearty, but simple.
That’s when I thought of risotto. This dish is a blend of my favorite recipes, and at this point has become my own. You will need:
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp butter
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1 pound mushrooms, thickly sliced (I use crimini)
2-4 shallots, chopped (depending on their size, about ½ cup chopped)
5-6 cups chicken or mushroom broth
¾ cup Marsala
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
½ cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
Start by heating your broth in a stockpot. Keep it warm.
I learned about dry sautéing mushrooms a few years ago, and now it’s my favorite way to prepare them. Put the thickly sliced mushrooms in a large stockpot over high heat. Gently stir the mushrooms to keep them from sticking to the bottom. Just when you think they are going to burn, they will begin to squeak and give up their moisture. Sprinkle ¼ tsp salt over them and stir to coat them in their own juice. Turn the heat down to medium. They will reabsorb their own juices, enhancing their earthy flavor.
Once most of the mushroom liquid has been reabsorbed, add the oil and butter to the stockpot. Stir to coat the mushrooms then add the chopped shallot. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the shallot is tender.
Add the risotto and stir to coat in the butter and oil. Wait 1-2 minutes until the grains are translucent at their edges. Add the Marsala and cook until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about another 3-4 minutes. (Marsala is always my favorite wine in mushroom-based dishes. Its sweetness compliments the earthiness of the mushrooms perfectly. It is a fortified wine, which means alcohol has been added. Depending on your sensitivity to gluten, you may want to make sure the Marsala you’re using is fortified with brandy.)
Begin adding the broth in ¾ cup increments. I use a glass measuring cup to scoop up the broth. The trick to creamy risotto is constant attention. It doesn’t take a lot of skill—just a lot of stirring. Keep stirring until all of the broth has been absorbed, adding ¾ cup of broth each time. When you are getting low on broth, after about 15-20 minutes, taste the risotto to check the consistency. Five cups of broth will give you more of an al dente, firm texture, which I prefer. If you like really soft risotto, add the rest of the broth ½ a cup at a time.
Once the risotto is fully cooked, remove it from the heat. Add in a heaping ½ cup grated Parmesan and 1 tsp freshly chopped thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 generous portions.
A note about salt: the timing of adding salt to a dish impacts how much of it you taste. Salt can sneak into this dish through the butter, broth, and cheese. If you use unsalted butter and low-salt broth you will have more control and will achieve the same flavor with less salt.