Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Perfect Risotto

Risotto with "Summer Truffles"
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

Monday was Victoria Day, and this year's version was awfully damp and cold here in Montreal. We had to do something to ward off the chill, so we decided to make a risotto.

I know it's spring and rain is good for the garden, but I can't help feeling impatient for the hot and sunny weather. This dampness makes me feel like I live in England, which makes me think of Ford Madox Ford and one of my favourite images from his many-volumed memoirs. He is alone in an old stone house somehere in the countryside. He lights a fire and begins his dinner preparations: peeling shallots, so many of them that patience is needed, cutting up the rabbit, opening a bottle of wine. The shallots are browned slowly, the meat is added and braised in wine... He makes a dark stew which sounds perfect. Its aroma warms the house. And he is alone.

Don't ask me which volume this story comes from. I read them all back to back one winter and can't distinguish one from the other. All I know is that he was a good, if cranky, man, and he wrote a perfect book: that is, of course, The Good Soldier.

Mushroom Risotto with Leeks, Fennel, and "Summer Truffles"

Tomato-Mushroom Stock (see recipe below)
1 black truffle, grated
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb white mushrooms, washed and sliced
salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbs unsalted butter
1 medium-sized leek, white part only, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced, and washed
1 medium-sized fennel bulb, quartered lengthwise, cored, and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbs coarsely chopped Italian parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese

Pour the stock into a saucepan, bring it to a boil, and reduce it to 6 cups. Keep the stock warm over low heat.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet; add the white mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few pinches of pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms are golden and crisp on the edges; add half the garlic. Sauté for another minute or two more and then transfer the mushrooms to a bowl.

Heat the butter and remaining oil in the pan and add the leeks, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few pinches of pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until the leeks are wilted. Add the fennel and remaining garlic; sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the rice and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Begin adding the stock a cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb each cup of stock completely before adding more. Keep the pan on medium heat and continue to stir.

When the rice has absorbed 3 cups of the stock, add the sautéed mushrooms and wine. Continue to add the stock, stirring constantly, until you have used 5 cups. Add half of the grated truffle. As you stir in the last cup of stock, add 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few pinches of pepper. At this point the grains of rice will be a little toothy and the risotto quite saucy; it's ready to serve. Stir in half of the parsley. Serve immediately in warm bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, the remaining parsley, and the remaining grated truffle.

Serves 4-6, or two with some leftovers.

Tomato-Mushroom Stock for Risotto

2 quarts cold water
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek top, chopped
1 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
8 garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a knife blade
1 tsp salt
2 medium-sized carrots
1 large unpeeled potato, chopped
1/4 lb white mushrooms, sliced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 28-oz can tomatoes with juice
6 parsley springs, chopped
6 fresh thyme sprigs, chopped
3 fresh sage leaves, chopped
2 fresh marjoram or oregano sprigs, chopped
1/2 tsp peppercorns

Pour 1/2 cup water into a stockpot and add the onion, leek top, garlic, and salt. Give them a stire, then cover the pot and cook vegetables gently over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cover with remaining water.

Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. Pour the stock through a strainer, press as much liquid as you can from the vegetables, and discard them (I know, it's sad, but that's the way you make stock). Use immediately or cool and refrigerate or freeze. The stock will keep in the refrigerator for 2 days and indefinitely in the freezer.

[note: we improvised a version of this stock this time around, one without the shiitakes, the celery, and the thyme, sage, and marjoram/oregano, and our dish still turned out perfect. If you do follow this recipe, though, you'll get a stock that's even richer, even more complex, and well worth the effort. I suppose you could still make this risotto with another kind of stock, but this particular stock not only gives it all the right flavors, it also gives the risotto just the right pinkish tint.]

Both of these recipes come from Annie Sommerville's Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes From the Celebrated Greens Restaurant. (Actually, truth be told, the risotto recipe is our own variation on one of Sommerville's recipes.) We've said it before, but we'll say it again: Sommerville's cookbook is amazing, and these two recipes are yet more proof.

Serve with a crusty loaf of bread, a nice salad, and a good bottle of red wine. You can also throw in a nice dessert afterwards, if you like.



Anonymous said...

where do you find truffles in montreal?

Oblivia said...


michelle said...

The truffles we used in this dish were a gift, but if I was looking to buy truffles I would head to Gourmet Laurier at 1042 Laurier O. in Outremont. They have a locked case full of the goodies. There's also Fouvrac at 1451 Laurier E. I am sure Milani in Little Italy carries them and they're at 6882 St. Laurent. Happy shopping...