Not because the angle of the sun has changed; nor because of a message from the leaves; nor even because the mushrooms were irresistible, but because it was on the schedule: I made a risotto this week, because that is what we decided back in July, when the summer stretched ahead like a warm lilo and September was a far away dot. And, to be honest, I blame the mushroom risotto. Last week when I looked at the schedule to remind myself what I should be writing about, I was not happy to see those two words, a rain dance for autumn. And, sure enough, when I went to buy the rice and dried mushrooms, summer snapped and it rained. Then it stopped, there was that smell and, because it is still warm, everything dried back to a cracker. But the damage was done, and to prove it, the leaves fell off the trees like sadness.
Anna Del Conte is my touchstone for risotto. She notes there is a well defined method, and I follow hers, also remembering her four bits of advice like a rhyme. Correct rice (carnaroli or arborio work well for most, then stumpy vialone nano for vegetable or fish risotti). A heavy-based pan with space for the rice to increase its volume by nearly three times. Good, well-flavoured stock. And template proportions: 300g rice, 1.3 litres of stock, 60g butter and 45g parmesan for four people (although depending on the day I might add a bit more). Del Conte also points out the clinking sound of the rice as it toasts slightly in the pan, before the liquid is added. Then, the steady addition of the stock (or other liquid). Risotto is a commitment to the pan for 16-20 minutes: you are the facilitator, the bridge, between the ingredients and the result. And, yes, there are oven, no-stir methods, but this is not that: this is my rain-dance risotto.
It was an obligatory risotto, but the mushrooms were irresistible – ovoli, a variety with caps the colour of sunset. So irresistible that I paid too much for them, and she added a rotten one. It’s horrible to be ripped off and taken for a fool when shopping, even more so if you are an enthusiast. I walked home and wanted to cry like the trees, imagining how I might go back and let her know that I am not stupid. Back home, though, they turned out to be trimmable, their flavour beautiful. And risotto turns out to be a friend, a scheduled, provocative, savoury, butter- and cheese-loaded friend that is a pleasure to make and eat. Even when the angle of the sun changes. It is still hot in Rome – too hot, really, to be eating a bowl of brown rice – a reminder that some things won’t be scheduled.
Prep 40 min
Cook 30 min
25g dried porcini mushrooms
300g fresh mushrooms (field, chestnut, porcini, ovoli)
1 small onion
300g arborio rice
150ml white wine or vermouth
Soak the dried mushrooms in 500ml warm water for 30 minutes, then drain, reserving the soaking liquid, and chop all the mushrooms, both dried and fresh, into small pieces. Filter the soaking liquid to remove any grit, put in a small pan and add enough water or light stock to make it up to 1.3 litres. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer at the back of the stove.
Peel and very finely dice the onion. In a saute pan, fry the onion in 20g butter and a little olive oil, until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms, stir, then add the rice and stir so that every grain glistens, moving the pan around so they clatter against the sides.
Add the wine and leave it to whoosh and evaporate a bit. Note the time. Now start adding the mushroom broth, one ladle at a time, stirring the rice attentively, so it absorbs the liquid before the next ladle is added. Continue in this way until all the stock has been used up, and the rice is plump and firm, and has lost any chalky bite. This will take 16-20 minutes, depending on the type and age of the rice.
Turn off the heat, add the rest of the butter and beat – really beat, almost whisking it in – with a spoon for 30 seconds. Now add the cheese, beat again vigorously and serve immediately.