Not quite the death dish

If you’ve been a regular viewer of Masterchef Australia then you will know the kind of fear risotto evokes amongst the contestants and judges. While many of them have tried to master the dish, only some have been successful. Being such an ardent fan of the show every time there was risotto I’d be on the edge wondering if it would make the cut.

I’d been wanting to try my hand at risotto for quite some time now but I was always intimidated. I’ve eaten some stellar risotto dishes – with mushrooms, grilled asparagus and feta, seafood and every time I took a bite of this, I fell in love with the dish all over again. I know it has a good amount of cheese and that the rice is the key to making this dish. But I just never gathered the courage.

Then the husband surprised me with Jamie’s Italy, a book that I’d been eyeing for the longest time. Now Jamie Oliver is one of my favourite chefs, I love how he’s so casual and honest in his approach to cooking. His flavours are true, the presentation is all about colour and not quaint little portions; but what I really look up to him for is the way he makes food healthy and delicious at the same time. I just had to try some of the recipes in this book and they came out so well, every single time. Armed with that kind of confidence I set out to try the risotto. I read the recipe carefully and went to Crawford market to pick up the ingredients. I found some beautiful arborio rice and also some huge shitake mushrooms and a whole lot of other stuff. I’ve made some changes to the original recipe but they’re only because of the availability of ingredients.

Mushroom risotto
Adapted from Jamie’s Italy

For the mushrooms
1/2 packet of button mushrooms, washed and cleaned
A handful of shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes and then roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp of butter
Salt to taste

Don’t throw away the liquid in which the mushrooms were soaking, we’ll use it later on while making the risotto.

Heat the butter in a pan and when it begins frothing, add the garlic to it and stir around till the raw smell disappears.

Now add the shiitake mushrooms and cook for about a minute. Add the button mushrooms after this and cook until done, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and keep it aside.

For the risotto
200gms of Arborio rice
1.25 litres of chicken stock (I used 3 Maggi stock cubes in 1.5 litres of water, simmered this until done and used it in the recipe)
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 a stalk of celery, minced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup of dry white wine
2 tsp of butter
1 tsp of olive oil
1 tsp of rosemary (dried)
Salt to taste

Heat the butter and olive oil in a saucepan or a wok. Now add the onion to this, when it begins changing colour add the celery and garlic. Keep stirring it around till it has all turned brown and gives a pleasant aroma.

Next, add the rice to the pan and stir it around a little. Now begin adding the stock by the ladlefuls, do this gradually and keep stirring it around until it reduces. Also add the mushroom liquid at this point.  Repeat this process till you find that the rice has cooked. Now the rice for risotto doesn’t have to be completely cooked, like it would in a pulao, it has to be transparent to look at but needs to have a bite to it. So keep tasting the risotto as you go.

Once it is done, adjust the seasoning and sprinkle the rosemary on it.

To plate the dish
Parmesan cheese, grated
Smoked cheese, shaved
Olive oil, to drizzle

Place some of the risotto in the centre of a plate. Top this with the mushroom mixture that we just made earlier. Garnish with the cheese, drizzle some olive oil and serve hot.

* The rice mixture that we make for the risotto is a plain one, called Risotto Bianco; which means a white risotto. This is plain one and makes for a terrific base, you can top this with anything from roasted vegetables to fish, my favourite, however, is mushrooms.

* You can cook the mushrooms after adding the onion and garlic, you will get a risotto with flavours that are more mellow and mushroom-y.

*If you can get fresh herbs for the risotto then nothing like it. I’ve used sundried rosemary for this dish.

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