Mushroom and Marsala Risotto
“Mmmm! That smells like delicious……gruel?”
Mike peered suspiciously into the pot the first time that I made him this risotto. We had only been dating for a few months and I had come over to his townhouse to make dinner after work, which was something that he had been rather excited about only minutes before. He perched on one of the kitchen chairs to watch as I explained that for dinner I was making a mushroom risotto with salad. Ever the supportive partner, he squared his shoulders back and tried to smile with an attempt at sincerity that was so heartbreakingly sweet it would make you melt, and said, “Oh! Good! I’ve never had mushroom risotto. That sounds….good…..for dinner…..”
I’m quite certain that he was really thinking, “Why can’t she just make hot dogs? I could really go for some hot dogs.”
I stirred the rice, slowly ladling in small amounts of hot stock, and promised him that it would be worth it and I wouldn’t let him starve. At the end of the meal he smacked his lips and told me that this was his favorite thing that I had ever made, ever. This might have had something to do with our budding new love making the rice taste just that much richer, but frankly it’s also just darn good risotto. This is one of the dishes that I come back to time and again, sometimes browning some sausage for the mix if I’m feeling particularly meaty, and it’s just a comforting side dish (or entree, as has been the case many times) that never fails to satisfy. After all, with woodsy mushrooms, earthy thyme and sweet Marsala it’s hard to go wrong.
Mushroom and Marsala Risotto
- 2 cups short grain Italian arborio rice *
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 large cloves arlic
- 3 tbsp butter, divided
- 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 500 g (1 lb) cremini mushrooms **
- 2.5 tsp dried thyme, divided
- 1 cup white wine ***
- 6-8 cups chicken stock****
- 1/4 cup Marsala
- 200 g (1 cup) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
* A starchy short grain rice is your best bet for a creamy risotto and the shape should be round or semi-round/oblong. Arborio rice is quite common and easily available in most supermarkets, but just in case there are other alternatives like Vialone or Nona. What you do not want to use is a long grain rice, or a quick cooking/parboiled rice because you won’t be able to achieve the right consistency.
** This recipe works delightfully with regular ol’ button mushrooms in a pinch, but you can also substitute your favorite woody wild mushrooms instead.
*** Not a drinker and you don’t want to use white wine? No problem, you can add the equivalent volume in stock. But…pssst – if you’re averse to cooking with alcohol, you might not be too keen on the Marsala either, and I vote that it stays.
**** To make this dish vegetarian you could use a good quality and flavorful golden vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
Pour the stock into a medium pot and place it over medium heat. As soon as the stock is hot, but not boiling, turn down the heat and leave it to stay warm.
Finely chop the onion and mince the garlic. Do show a bit of care in this, because if you’re going to go to all the effort of crafting a rich, creamy and delicious risotto, it would be a shame to ruin the texture with big chunks of onion.
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and the same of the oil (you will have 1 tbsp of each left) in a large heavy bottomed pot set over medium heat. Sauté the onions and garlic for 4-5 minutes until they are soft and translucent, being sure that the heat is low enough for the aromatics to cook without browning or burning.
Add the rice (no need to rinse it first) and two teaspoons of thyme. Cook the rice in the butter for a minute or two until the grains are starting to turn translucent around the edges.
Pour the white wine into the rice and stir regularly until the liquid is approximately 80% absorbed, which takes 3-4 minutes.
After the wine is mostly absorbed add the stock, one full ladle (about 1/2 cup) at a time. Stir the risotto slowly and regularly as it absorbs the liquids, making sure that it does not stick and the rice cooks evenly. You don’t want to be too aggressive as the rice cooks or you’ll cause damage and end up with a mush of rice rather than individual creamy grains. Just remember to keep a light hand and a keen eye on the rice as it cooks, and if you stir about once or twice per minute that should be fine.
From the time that you add the rice to your pot it will take about 20-30 minutes for the risotto to cook, which is the perfect time to cook the mushrooms. Chop the mushrooms into a medium dice.
Heat the remaining oil and butter in a large pan set over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook them down for 5-7 minutes until they’re soft but still light brown with a bit of pith left in the center. Stir in the remaining half teaspoon of dried thyme.
Pour the Marsala over the mushrooms and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper to taste.
When the mushrooms are cooked through into a rich mahogany brown the Marsala will have created a thin glaze on the outside and there should still be some liquid left in the pan. If there is no liquid, add a wee splash (no more than 2 tablespoons) or the chicken stock to the pan so that the fungi don’t dry out while the risotto finishes.
When the risotto is finished cooking it will be slow to absorb any additional liquid. The rice grains should still be granular and discrete, holding their shape with just a hint of chew when you bite through. The texture of the dish should be loose but not runny. Stir in the mushrooms and all of their accumulated juices before adjusting the seasoning with more salt and pepper as you see fit.
To finish the risotto, stir in the freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.
Risotto is always best served immediately when it is at it’s rich and creamiest. Although it can take some time and a fair bit of stirring, at the end of the day a fabulous risotto is quite easy to make and even easier to eat. Far, far too easy to eat…..
The Marsala lends a delicate sweetness to the earthy and savory flavors in this dish. Although it stands up well as a side dish for hefty red meats, the rich risotto is hearty enough to eat as a light meal with green salad on the side. Or…no side, with a spoon and straight out of the pot. Just sayin’.
Out of either love or pity, and I’m not sure which, Mike got his meat tonight. The luxurious but simply flavored risotto formed a delicious bed for some slow braised beef shanks. This was possibly one of the most satisfying meals that we’ve had in quite some time. Or, as I like to think of it, delectable insurance that he’s not going to leave me any time too soon. At least, not until the leftovers are done.