Mushroom Risotto with a Green Salad & Balsamic Vinaigrette - Recipe

Mushroom risotto is a hug in a bowl: warm, earthy and comforting. Add a vibrant salad of mixed greens, shredded carrots with a balsamic vinaigrette and there's a complete meal. This combination has been a regular on our table for the last three years, especially through the colder months. Everyone likes it, even the three and five year old.  For their plates instead of salad, we offer carrot sticks and peas.

I have the recipe for the balsamic vinaigrette in with my everyday salad recipe post. This dressing keeps for weeks in the refrigerator, and gets better after the garlic has had time to infuse. Make it in advance, or at the very least, mix it together before you start the risotto and let it sit out on the counter to meld. This tangy dressing is a balance to the creamy, rich rice dish.

On days I am making stock and have a big pot simmering on the stove, risotto is an easy dinner. I hang a sieve on the lip of the stock pot and use a measuring cup to dip out the strained broth as needed for the recipe.

On days I want a glass of wine, this recipe also creates a viable excuse to open a bottle of Chardonnay; a glass to deglaze the pan and a glass to drink. Serve the remainder with dinner. The wine pairs beautifully since there's already a little flavor of it in the risotto. Feel free to use whichever dry white you prefer; Pino Grigio and Sauignon blanc are also lovely choices.

In the spring, when the first shoots of asparagus are ready to harvest, replacing half of the mushrooms with asparagus is delightful. Add a cup and a half of one inch shoots to the pan in the last minutes of the mushrooms and onions sauteing. You want the asparagus to just turn bright green. It will finish cooking while the risotto stands for five minutes at the end of the recipe.

Mushroom Risotto

1 quart (4 cups) of chicken stock (unsalted)
2 bay leaves

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound portable mushrooms or half a pound of shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 medium onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups), divided
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 cloves of garlic, minced

Up to a quart of water

2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (plus more for topping)
Ground black pepper

1.  In a sauce pan, heat the chicken stock with bay leaves and hold it just under a simmer.  Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Then add the mushrooms, soy sauce, and half of the minced onions (1 cup). Cook, stirring periodically until the mushrooms and onions have released their liquid, and started to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, stir until fragrant, and then remove mushroom mixture from the pot into a bowl. Set aside. 

2.  Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in the now empty pot. Add the remaining 1 cup of onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until glassy, about 9 minutes. Add the rice and cook stirring frequently until the sides are transparent, another 5 minutes. Add the wine and continue stirring until it has absorbed or cooked off.

3.  Remove the bay leaves from the chicken stock and pour all four cups of the hot liquid into the pot of rice and stir it together. Decrease the heat to medium, when the pot starts bubbling put the lid on it and drop the heat to medium-low. Allow the pot to cook for 9-12 minutes stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, to the empty pot the stock was in, add about a quart of water and heat it to just below a simmer.

4.  Once the rice has absorbed most of the stock check the thickness of your mixture by scraping the bottom of the Dutch oven with a wooden spoon. If you can see the bottom of the pan for a couple seconds before the rice covers it again, add a 3/4 cups of hot water. Once the consistency is right, stir continuously and fairly vigorously for three minutes to break down the starches in the rice and create the creamy risotto texture. While stirring add more hot water, a half cup at a time, as needed to keep the rice moving, 2-3 cups total is usually enough.

5.  Take the Dutch oven off the heat and fold in the mushroom and onion mixture. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine. Put the lid back on and let the risotto stand for five minutes. Before serving, adjust salt and stir in a half cup of hot water to loosen the rice if needed.  The ideal texture for risotto should pour slowly from a spoon. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan and a generous grind of black pepper.

Risotto also makes delicious leftovers. Mix in a tablespoon or so of water to return it to the correct texture when reheating.