LET’S COOK IT: A creamy mushroom risotto, without cream

It was a cold Saturday evening when we went astray in a neighbourhood that we – after the sad loss of Crêperia da Ribeira – tend to avoid these days: Cais do Sodré. Time Out has taken over the area by creating the “perfect” gastronomic shopping centre, Mercado da Ribeira, offering a vast choice of dishes that you can find in every other neighbourhood as well but now get to enjoy them in a colossal factory cantine. Having to manover masses of drunk (Erasmus) students staggering from one bar to the other doesn’t make it the most pleasant place for a late night’s stroll either.

Anyway, we were hungry and decided to try out Bar da Velha Senhora on the infamous pink street and ordered a mushroom risotto. As it was a normal bar, our expectations were not too high – maybe no strong porcini flavours but at least edible. Not that it was bland but this abomination of a risotto probably would make every Italian nonna cry. Not only did they use a ridiculous amount of butter but they also put cream in it. Yes, you read it correctly: c.r.e.a.m.  At least the sour red wine we ordered cut nicely through the fatty, buttery risotto. This time, we’ll spare you the disappointing pictures and the grim details. Instead, we want to make the world a better place by offering you a free recipe for making a real Italian risotto that actually tastes of mushrooms and definitely doesn’t need any cream in it. As it should be.

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Basic things:
Olive oil, butter (real butter, mind you, and no salt added) sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
No cream though

Vegetables:
3 onions
1 bolb of garlic
300-600 grams of mushrooms, either oyster, shii-take, button mushrooms, you can either use one kind or use a mixture; 300 grams if you’re gonna use also five or six dried porcini mushrooms (might also work with shii-take or other dried mushrooms you might find in the Asiatic stores), 600 grams if you’re only gonna use fresh mushrooms
300 grams of mushrooms extra for the risotto itself
Cream is not a vegetable

Herbs, spices and condiments:
a glass of white wine
thyme / rosemary / herbs de provence
fresh parsley
250g of arborio risotto rice
parmesan / grana padano or São Jorge cheese, a handful, freshly grated
Still no cream

Garnish:
Rocket or spinach
Good quality olive oil
Really, I said no cream, what’s wrong with you?

Let’s cook it!

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MAKING THE STOCK

  1. Well, you could use a stock cube, but it’s just not the same thing plus most of them are pretty bad for you, what with preservatives and all of that, so forget it.
  2. First of all, you need to get some serious colour into your mushrooms: chop however much you’re using into quite small slices and fry them up in a non stick frying pan in several batches. Make sure the oil is hot when you put your mushrooms in and keep on frying until your mushrooms are really nice and brown. Season with salt, some tyme and one minute before taking them out, add a teaspoon of finely chopped garlic. Add the mushrooms to the pot in which you’re gonna cook your stock and repeat the process until you’ve used up all your mushrooms for the stock. Fry them in batches and don’t overcrowd the pan, otherwise they’ll just boil and you’ll never get the right colour from them. Now do the same thing also for the 300 grams of mushrooms you’ll use for the risotto and set them aside on a plate.
  3. To your pot, add 2 finely sliced onions, tear off two cloves of garlic and keep them aside for the risotto. Slice the rest of your garlic bulb in two, crosswise, and add to the pot. Also the bayleaf, tyme (fresh if possible), rosemary, parsley stems (what the French call a bouquet garni): it’s all good. Add porcini if using, some peppercorns and two liters of water.
  4. Boil with the lid on for about 20 minutes, pass it through a sieve, add salt to taste and you have a delicious stock, enough for a risotto. You can also keep it in the freezer the way you would keep ice cubes. Next time you want to boost a sauce or dish, you’ll have a serious umami-packed waiting for you in the freezer.

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MAKING THE RISOTTO

  1. Chop your onion, your two cloves of garlic really fine and sweat them in a medium sized pan in one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. Keep the heat low, you want to sweat your onion and garlic, they’re not supposed to get any colour!
  2. Add your rice and stir your rice around good and properly until the exterior becomes glass-like and translucent. Don’t add any cream.
  3. Add your white wine and if you’re using dried porcini mushrooms in your broth, add two or three dried here too, tear them up and them together with the wine.
  4. Stir, stir, stir, the only way to get the creamy texture is to stir and loosen the starch in the rice so it looks like a pudding towards the end.
  5. Keep stirring until the wine has evaporated and now gradually add a ladle of hot stock. Keep stirring, and add a new ladle of stock once the stock has evaporated and repeat process for about 15 minutes. Keep on not adding any cream.
  6. Taste and when your rice is getting towards al dente, add your previously fried mushrooms.
  7. When the rice is to your liking (I like it soft on the outside but with an al dente, chalky interior, it shouldn’t be mushy), turn off the heat, add two tablespoons of butter and a handful of freshly grated parmesan or grana padano cheese. The São Jorge cheese from the Azores works very nicely too. Stir this “mantecatura” until the butter and cheese have dissolved. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Leave to sit for about two minutes. It should have the “muddy” consistency of rice pudding. Or to put it differently: when you put in on your plate, it should be movable and creamy. And you didn’t add any cream.
  8. Be impressed with yourself that you didn’t use any cream.
  9. When serving, add a couple of leaves of rocket and drizzle over some of your best olive oil and one last fresh grating of cheese.
  10. Let the wonder of life prevail.

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