This lightened-up version of the comforting Italian dish calls for wild mushrooms instead of heaps of cream, butter, and cheese. The mushrooms add a gourmet touch without extra weight for your holiday packing or your waistline. Whichever mushrooms and herbs you use, the trick to exceptional risotto is to stir slowly and continuously after each addition of broth, which helps release the starch and gives the dish its creamy nature, with or without cheese.
Look for dried chanterelles or morels, or blends that include more budget-friendly porcini or oyster mushrooms. Feel free to add fresh wild or cultivated mushrooms—even sliced button mushrooms are a toothsome treat, though fresh chanterelles would be wonderfully indulgent. Simply sauté them in olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and minced tarragon, cook gently for 5 to 8 minutes, until tender, and serve on top of risotto.
Homemade vegetable or chicken broth is best since the broth is one of the strongest flavours in this dish, but you can also use commercial vegetable broth or quality bouillon cubes or powder. The soaking liquid of the dried mushrooms is essentially a quick mushroom broth, which reduces the amount of additional broth required. And, if you want to travel extra light, use dried herbs instead of fresh.
If the rice isn’t tender after 20 minutes, increase the heat slightly. If you’re running out of broth, the heat is too high. But don’t worry, you can add a little extra water or wine to stretch the remaining broth if needed.
3 oz (85 g) dried chanterelles, morels, or other wild mushrooms (see Tip)
6 cups (1.5 L) broth (see Tip)
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground black pepper
Salt, to taste
2 tsp (10 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups (350 mL) risotto rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano
1/4 cup (60 mL) white wine, dry vermouth, or additional broth
2 Tbsp (30 mL) freshly minced chives, or 2 tsp (10 mL) dried chives
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh tarragon leaves, or 1 Tbsp (15 mL) dried
1/4 cup (60 mL) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or other aged, firm cheese (optional)
Sautéed fresh mushrooms (optional
In medium heatproof bowl, pour 4 cups (1 L) boiling water over dried mushrooms. Cover and let stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes.
In medium pot, heat broth to just below a simmer. Into pot of broth, strain mushroom soaking liquid through sieve lined with cheesecloth. Reserve drained mushrooms. Add pepper to broth and salt to taste; it should be fairly salty, since the rice will absorb much of the salinity, but if using commercial broth, check the amount of sodium it contains before adding more––you may not need any at all. Cover and keep warm.
In heavy-bottomed skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add diced shallot and cook for 4 minutes, until softened. Add rice and stir to coat for 1 minute. Add wine or vermouth and drained soaked mushrooms. Stir for 30 seconds to deglaze pot.
Add 2 ladlefuls of warm stock to rice and stir until absorbed. Add half the chives and tarragon (if using dried herbs, add all the chives and tarragon) and continue adding a ladleful of broth at a time until rice is al dente, about 20 minutes, stirring slowly but continuously after each addition until broth is almost absorbed before adding more. Taste and add salt, if necessary.
Top with remaining fresh chives and tarragon and optional sautéed fresh mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano.