Thursday, 30 January 2014

Have You Tried the Dried?

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini Secchi
Risotto with Dried Porcini Mushrooms

You know those science fiction movies, set after the world has all-but been destroyed and ravaged by nuclear war, where people end up killing (and occasionally eating) each other for food and where things are really desperate and not a lot of fun? You know- the ones with no pretty special effects and no happy end? Well I for one am not worried about that scenario ever happening. Not because I think it is impossible, but mainly because this has been the second evening that I really SHOULD have gone out and got some groceries and yet I managed to survive on things I still had in my kitchen cupboards. So I reckon I should be able to get by for a while without leaving the house or killing anyone. For a while at least...

What saved my life this evening were the deliciously rich and wonderful dried Porcini mushrooms, which had been sitting in my cupboard for probably a year now... waiting patiently for me to remember that I bought them for a reason! But don't get me wrong here, whilst you read my petty attempts at being humorous and assume that the reason may be that they are something you should keep them at home is for emergencies- the real and most important reason to have them is because they are truly delicious! Maybe even more so than in their fresh form...

And in true "act of survival" manner, the ingredients for this dish were so few and so simple, that you hopefully will agree with me when I claim that when it comes to cooking good food- less really IS more most of the time. Take a look below and you will see a half stick of celery, half of a carrot, an onion, a no larger than 2" piece of Pecorino and a handful of dried Porcini. These few ingredients, in addition to 2 handfuls of rice, made for an absolutely satisfying and delicious couple of bowls of true comfort food this evening. 

This was a speeded-up and improvised version of a risotto, relying on the Porcini

mushrooms and a simple sofritto for the main flavor, but also on a "secret potion" which I will reveal to you in just a few seconds... it was hidden right at the back of one of the kitchen cupboards you see...

But in the meantime, let's get started by pouring enough hot water over the mushrooms to cover them. Normally the thing to do would be to let them soak for at least half an hour and then boil them up in order to make a stock from them to cook the risotto in. In order to speed things up, I simply waited 4-5 minutes, until they were soft enough to cut into smaller pieces and decided they could give off their flavor directly into the risotto instead... sometimes I get a little impatient... usually when I am hungry!

So whilst the mushrooms soaked, I finely chopped the carrot, celery, onion and parsley and started to fry them gently in a little olive oil- just until the onions became translucent... you know the way it goes! It's always the same, I know!

I then added the rice- 2 handfuls for 2 nice little portions- or one "hey- this is my only meal of the day!"sized portion ;-) , the latter being what I described mine as this evening. The rice was regular arborio, and as soon as it was stirred-in, coated with oil and just beginning to fry, I deglazed the saucepan and added the chopped mushrooms and the juices they had soaked in.

Of course, as I already mentioned, this is not the classic method, but let me tell you now after having enjoyed the results immensely... it works just fine! In fact- much better than just fine! And that is partly in thanks to the next ingredient that I used to help out in my hour of need- this wonderful and potent potion that I brought back from my last visit to England last year :-) Wonderful stuff it is too!

Although it is called "ketchup", this is an old-fashioned seasoning, rich, dark and more similar to soy or Worcestershire sauce than the thick, red and tangy stuff that you pour over your burgers and fries. This is made from fermented mushrooms and adds depth and richness to any mushroom dish or gravy... I bought it simply out of curiosity and because of the label to be honest! But I am so glad I did!

So, as opposed to the usual adding of a rich broth to the rice to cook the risotto, I simply added boiling water, a little at a time and stirred and stirred and stirred, as one would... and the flavors developed as the carrot, onion and celery cooked along with the dried mushrooms. Trust me- there was a lot of flavor in there- and with the help of a few splashes of the wonderful Watkins ketchup, by the time the risotto was cooked it perfectly rich and dreamy!

The cooking time was around 35-40 minutes and it did need to be stirred occasionally- but it is nothing as stressful as people make out, just a little stir now and then is all it takes, each time you top it up with water. The only important thing when making risotto- whether it is a classic risotto using a rich broth that you have cooked in advance, or this method, where the flavors are developing in the saucepan, is that the liquid you add needs to also be boiling, so that it doesn't cool the risotto down and prolong the cooking time. 

I checked the seasoning and added a little salt and plenty of pepper as required- bearing in mind that the grated Pecorino that I would be adding towards the end is also rich and salty, and that the Porcini and the mushroom ketchup are also very intense in their flavor... so go gently and add your seasoning a little at a time until you get it right. You do have around half an hour to work on it before you need to "worry"...

After 30 minutes or so, have a critical taste and if the rice is almost done, if it is nicely "manticato", meaning cooked to the point that the broth is becoming nicely creamy, then you can add your cheese... Parmesan is the most commonly used for risotti, but as I already mentioned, mine was Pecorino this evening. Stir it in well until it melts completely, add a last splash of liquid and then let it sit and gently simmer until that liquid becomes absorbed and the broth becomes thick and creamy. 

Push the rice back in the saucepan using  your spoon- and if it flows back towards you in gently, it is what the Italians call "al onda" and ready to be enjoyed. "Onda" is the Italian word for wave... it has nothing to do with Japanese cars! But it is a fun expression to impress your friends with- they will all be familiar with "al dente" in reference to pasta, but you may be able to show-off with this one ;-)

A last sprinkle of fresh pepper, a little extra grated cheese and a touch of parsley for a fresh touch- and there you have it! Totally rich, totally delicious- totally easy... and put together, as if by magic, using next to nothing! And as you know by now my friends... that is absolutely MY KIND OF FOOD! And I hope it will be yours too!

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