When I lived in France, I frequented the Saturday market around the corner from my apartment, stocking up on a week’s worth of aubergines, carrots, potatoes, and more from my usual vendor Abdel. Once I’d crossed off the necessities, I liked to wander the aisles, sniffing the cheeses and eyeballing the charcuterie gleaming in refrigerated carts. The stall that attracted me the most, however, was the mushroom man. I wish I’d taken a photo of his wares: boxes upon baskets upon barrels of mushrooms of every shape and variety imaginable, from the plain, white and cheap champignons de Paris (button mushrooms) to ultra-rare truffles priced far beyond the wildest dreams of a university student. My tongue practically hung out of my head as I goggled the vast array of fungi beckoning me with their earthy funk and whimsical shapes. Keeping close watch on my bank balance, I rarely had the funds to indulge.
Now, as I peruse the slim pickings of even the top New York food purveyors, I wish I’d impoverished myself a little more to enjoy those mushrooms. Luckily, one favorite stand at my local greenmarket frequently has had a variety of fresh mushrooms for sale this fall. I don’t know if they’re cultivated or foraged wild (I suspect a bit of both); in any case, the mushrooms are delicious, pretty to look at, and lovely to touch. If I get there early enough, I usually have a choice among button mushrooms, cremini, portobello, oyster, king oyster, shiitake, and maitake (also known as hen-of-the-woods).
If you’re a mushroom fanatic like me, you’re happy just sautéeing your treasures in some butter with maybe a dash of soy sauce, and then gobbling them down like a fiend. If you’re up for making a proper meal of it, however, a creamy, rich mushroom risotto can suffice by itself or pair easily with a roast chicken and green salad. I think it showcases the variety of several kinds of mushrooms while binding them together, both literally and metaphorically, into a harmonious, glutinous whole. Don’t be turned off by the amount of time risotto takes; besides the constant stirring (which you can outsource to kids, spouses, or helpful dinner guests), this dish is difficult to mess up and turns out very fancy.
Mixed Mushroom Risotto
I like a variety of mushrooms in my risotto but if you prefer just one or two types it will still be delicious. Adding a small amount of dried mushrooms can enhance the flavor nicely too. When using dried mushrooms, however, I recommend mixing in fresh sliced mushrooms in at least a 1:3 ratio of dry to fresh.
300 g/about 4 cups mixed fresh mushrooms such as maitake, shiitake, cremini, and oyster, sliced
8 g/2 Tbs dried porcini, crumbled
1 small onion or 2 shallots, finely minced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp. olive oil and 1 Tbs. butter, plus a knob of butter
salt and pepper
1. Place dried porcini in a bowl with boiling water; cover and let stand five minutes. After five minutes, strain through a sieve lined with a damp paper towel, reserving liquid, and rinse mushroom pieces to get rid of any grit. Set aside.
2. Place chicken broth in a saucepan over low heat. Bring to a simmer, and add the strained porcini liquid, totaling five cups of simmering liquid.
3. In a deep, heavy pot over low heat, sauté onion in olive oil and butter mixture until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic, fresh mushrooms and the additional knob of butter and sauté until the mushrooms are brown and any liquid they release has evaporated, about 4-5 minutes. Add the porcini and cook, stirring, one minute. Add the rice, stirring constantly, and cook until the grains become slightly translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the wine, stirring until absorbed.
4. Begin adding the broth in 1/2 cup increments, stirring constantly. The liquid should simmer as it is absorbed. Let nearly all of it be absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot.
Note: Five cups of liquid (plus the white wine) should be enough to get the risotto ever-s0-slightly al dente and creamy smooth. If it’s not, however, keep adding in 1/4 cup increments until you’re satisfied.