Sometimes, it’s not that you can’t think of what to make because you have no options–sometimes, it’s because there are too many. I open the cupboard, I see a little fat pack of carnarolli rice, and a thick fog rolls in. My mind goes totally numb, because all the possibilities start charging in like men from a French footbal team. There is seafood risotto with langoustine and mussels and sea bass or a deep red wine risotto, haunted by Valpolicella, a roasted cherry tomato and leek with a ricotta salata, or an innocent risotto with a bit of crisped pancetta and peas with just a tease of rosemary and butter at the end. If there were a menu involved, plates waiting to be matched up in front and in back, then that can help, but when it’s a one shot deal dinner, I don’t know. You could meditate as I sometimes do on what do you really, really want–what’s going to increase your production of red blood cells–but on a Monday, I don’t always have it in me. On days like these there’s nothing wrong with sticking to whatever you made the last time. Even then, risotto is perfect for making a dinner into a feast with one dish; it needs no major accessories, no detailed courses or a date with an overpriced piece of meat. Just a little salad, maybe two or three cheeses that you never tried before and a bottle of good wine.
I’m making my risotto mushroom:
You have got to get the love thing going before you start your risotto. The difference between a risotto made with love and a risotto made with a spoon alone, is something that makes you hungry for more, and a bowl of rice.
You can use a mushroom stock for this, which would just be mushroom stems, a carrot, a celery stalk, a large onion, a piece of garlic, parsley, thyme, a few peppercorns, and possibly a fennel frond, but I like to use a chicken stock instead, because it makes for a more delicate mushroom flavor. For chicken stock, use exactly the above, but instead of the mushroom stems, use a pack of chicken bones. You want to bring just the bones to a boil first, then throw away the water and start again. This gets all the weird stuff out of the stock. The trick with stock is to skim it. Whenever you pass by the stock pot, or happen to think about it, skim it. You can let it simmer for anywhere from twenty minutes, to four hours. The longer you cook it, the deeper the flavor.
For six people, I use a pound to a pound and a half of fresh mushrooms, of any combination, and 3 oz. of dried porcini mushrooms. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for about twenty minutes, then drain them, using a cheesecloth, or strong paper towel. Strain the liquid again, so that you can use it as well. The dirt the dried mushrooms leave behind is very fine, and you want to avoid getting it into your risotto. Rinse the mushrooms carefully, under running water, and set aside. Wipe, and thickly slice the fresh mushrooms. Cover the bottom of a dutch oven with olive oil, and add enough mushrooms to the pot, so that they cover the bottom, without overcrowding them. Let them sit for a minute before stirring, or seasoning, and then sprinkle on some salt, a fresh sprig of thyme or marjoram, and stir around until the mushrooms are cooked through. Repeat with the rest of the fresh mushrooms. Get a piece of garlic going in a little more olive oil, and toss in the porcini. Stir them around, a about a quarter of a cup of their liquid, and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated. Mix all the mushrooms together, and set them aside. Give some color to 3 garlic cloves. Throw in a chopped red onion, and let it soften. Stir in a cup and a half of risotto, and mix around with the onion until the rice grains are clear. Begin adding the hot stock, a ladle full or two at a time, and stir gently. You want to do this lovingly. There is no rushing a risotto that is made this way. If you do, everything breaks down on the outside, and hardens in the middle, which is no good at all. As the rice absorbs the liquid, continue to add stock, until the rice is al dente, with some liquid remaining. Stir in the mushrooms, and a few Tablespoonfuls of vermouth. At this point, you want to stir the risotto as little as possible, so fold in 4 Tablespoons of butter, and a cup of grated parmesan. Serve immediately. People should already be sitting at the table, with their forks in their hands.