If you really love them this Valentine’s Day, you’ll make them this Mixed Mushroom Risotto. What better way to elicit proclamations of love, proposals of marriage, and unending devotion than with a meal you made from scratch? This dish can also be made vegetarian and adapted to be gluten-free, in case the object of your attention isn’t into that. Not to mention my secret umami-bomb takes this dish and makes it legendary.
You’ve likely heard from someone you know that making risotto is difficult, that its easy to ruin if you’re not a professional, or is extremely labor intensive and takes all day to make. Well, they were wrong. Anyone can make risotto at home, and everyone should. No, it doesn’t take all day, you just have to get your ingredients out ahead of time and it’ll be done in an hour and a half or so. Yes, it does involve about a half hour of one-on-one stirring time with you, your stove, and a wooden spoon- which isn’t even a drawback in my opinion. I feel like these days life is so rushed and hectic that we’re all too busy focused on the end result rather than enjoying the means of getting there. Which I completely understand, sometimes I too am guilty of just wanting to rush through to the end result, seeing as recipe testing is 80% of what I do when I’m home. I’m constantly brainstorming- even when I’m cooking in my own kitchen my laptop is out and ready for any editing as I go. But in that half hour when I’m stirring risotto, there’s this peace and quiet focus that I rarely get to experience anymore. When you’re stirring risotto you must be almost painfully slow and constant: swish…stir…repeat, always watching for the rice to tell you when it’s ready for the next round of stock. Adding the warm stock to the arborio rice while continuously stirring slowly releases the starch inside the rice granules, creating that signature creamy consistency risotto is known for. I feel like making risotto is something that you can, and maybe should, do hungover or half-awake for the first time because you’re less inclined to rush and over-analyze.
GET HUNGOVER FIRST. How’s that for cooking advice, people? First food blogger to recommend drinking the night before in a recipe- my mom will be so proud 🤪
Making risotto is similar in a lot of ways to building a soup base. You start with oil or butter, add your main flavor and sear it, sauté aromatic vegetables with herbs, deglaze with wine, add liquids/pasta and cook. There are a few variables and differences in my recipe that you should know before starting out, though. To make this Gluten-Free, substitute out the soy sauce called for in the recipe with either a gluten-free version or Tamari Sauce, which is an all-soybean derived alternative to the traditional half-soybean half-wheat soy sauce. I haven’t tried Tamari personally but one of my friends is gluten-free and says you can’t taste the difference at all! To make this recipe vegetarian-friendly, all you have to do is substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock called for here, and that’s it!
In terms of the kind of mushrooms you can use, it’s all about preference and cost. I used Baby Bella mushrooms and sliced them for the whole ones you see in this dish, but I added a secret ingredient in a little different way to create awesome depth of flavor: DRIED MUSHROOM POWDER. I pulverized a package of dried mushrooms in a clean coffee grinder that I reserve just for spices (I used dried Porcini mushrooms, but you can use Shiitake as well!) I read this article From Cook’s Illustrated about creating that infamous Umami flavor using soy sauce along with certain dried mushrooms that when used together act as a natural MSG. Many studies now show that MSG especially in moderation isn’t bad for you at all, for more information listen to this podcast. Those two are the best for bumping up that Umami flavor, but in a pinch get whatever dried mushrooms you can get your hands on, it’ll still taste great! They range from $3 up to $20, and once it’s in powder form I mix it with the soy sauce in a small bowl until it forms a weird-looking paste that honestly, looks just like potting soil. You know, the one with the little white bits mixed throughout but can condense a little when you press into it? Weirdest analogy ever but in this case it’s spot-on! See:
Am I right? Who knew a decent knowledge of gardening would be applicable to risotto? I then put this mixture into my simmering pot of stock and whisked it in to dissolve! Move over “Engagement Chicken”, because whether you want to impress a new flame, profess your love to your current one, or just get to that coveted “they have a drawer at my place” relationship status, nothing is going to secure it like this Mixed Mushroom Risotto will.
(Random side note: I actually made that infamous Engagement Chicken for my then-boyfriend/now-husband and to be fair he DID propose…just about 4 years later 🤨.)
Mixed Mushroom Risotto
1/2 oz. Dried mushrooms (I used Porcini)
3 tsp soy sauce (Can use GF soy sauce or Tamari if making this Gluten-Free)
8 C. Chicken or Beef Stock (Substitute Vegetable Stock for Vegetarians)
8 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms, destemmed and sliced
3 tbsp olive oil (divided into 2 tbsp and then another 1 tbsp later)
1 sprig of thyme
2 tbsp butter, divided
2 stalks of celery, halved and diced
1 onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper
2 C. Arborio rice
1/3 C. White wine
1 Bay Leaf
2/3 C. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pine nuts to garnish, if desired
In a spice grinder/blender pulverize the dried mushrooms until they resemble a powder. Transfer to a small bowl and add in the soy sauce or Tamari, mashing until a paste forms.
In a 4 qt saucepan, add in all the stock and the mushroom/soy sauce paste and bring to a boil, whisking often to incorporate. Once at a boil, reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes.
While stock is heating up, in a Dutch oven sauté the Baby Bella mushrooms in 2 Tbsp of the oil over medium heat until they start to brown. Then add in the thyme sprig and 1 tbsp of butter and cook until fully cooked and brown, about 3-4 minutes. Then remove the mushrooms to another plate and set aside.
In the same Dutch oven over medium heat (don’t clean it out!) add the rest of the olive oil, the remaining Tbsp of butter, onion, celery, garlic, salt and pepper and cook until onions are translucent, about 5-6 minutes.
Put in the arborio rice and stir very well for 30 seconds to fully coat each grain of rice with liquid. Toss in the bay leaf and the wine and continue stirring until all the wine gets absorbed.
Then add in the warm stock one cup at a time, stirring slowly but continuously in between each addition and only adding the next cup of stock when the previous one looks like it has been absorbed. This takes time, but if you don’t see any pools of liquid when you stop stirring, then add more. You might not use all the stock you have there- I did with my testing, but after about 25-30 minutes take a spoon and try a little bit of the rice. If it’s too hard, brittle or crunchy, keep adding stock slowly. When it’s ready you’ll see the rice appear “puffed up” almost like orzo but it’ll still have some structure and will be al dente.
Remove the bay leaf and discard. Add the sautéed mushrooms back in (you can save some for garnish on top!), along with the Parmesan cheese and stir until cheese is completely melted in.
Garnish with more Parmesan, pine nuts, mushrooms, thyme and a drizzle of olive oil! Enjoy!