Porcini-leek risotto

“What would you eat if you hadn’t eaten in a week?” my husband asked the waitress.

That’s how I feel sometimes. The day slips by, so many things need to be done, and by the time I finally find the time to eat, I’m so hungry I don’t even know what I want. I want everything. In one messy heap. Right now.

It’d been one of those days when we wound up at Lilush on a chilly December afternoon. The little cafe, sitting on the corner of Frishman and Masarik Square, offers a long list of soups, a handful of pasta dishes, and mulled wine to sip at the outdoor wooden tables. Distracted by all the food at the tables around me, I couldn’t decide what I wanted.

“What would you eat if you hadn’t eaten in a week?” my husband asked the waitress.

“Oh, a pasta dish, or a risotto,” she said, as I eyed a young man digging into a pile of risotto at a nearby table.

But always the contrarian, I ordered soup. That night, though, I came home and made risotto. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I liked risotto, but it had looked so warm and filling at the cafe. Warm and filling were right up my alley.

Making risotto is a contemplative task, since it generally involves standing over the stove, stirring ladleful after ladleful of hot broth into your rice as it cooks (that is, unless you choose one of the various “shortcut” recipes out there). Standing over a steaming pot is a pleasant thing to do on a chilly night, once the baby is in bed.

My version is made from a simple broth of soaked porcini, and not too much cheese. The dish is generally made from arborio rice, but I just used whatever short-grain rice I happened to have in the kitchen, and it was fine. Risotto loses some of its creamy texture once refrigerated and reheated, but it tastes good nonetheless.

For 4 to 6 servings:

  • handful dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1.5 liters boiling water
  • one medium onion
  • one medium leek
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups short-grain rice (arborio is traditional)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 cup red wine
  • For serving: fresh chopped parsley, and lots of pecorino or another sharp Italian cheese (I used about 80 grams, grated)

Put the porcini into a heat-proof bowl, and top with the boiling water. Let sit until you need it; this will be your broth.

Thinly dice the onion and the leek. Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pot, and add the vegetables. Stir, cooking until the onion and the white part of the leek are translucent.

Adjust the flame to medium-low. Add the rice and stir until coated with the vegetables and butter. Add the salt and pepper.

Once the rice shows signs of sticking, pour the wine into the pot. Stir as it cooks into the rice.

Once most of the wine has been absorbed, add a ladleful of mushroom broth (with whatever mushrooms the ladle catches) to the rice. Stir as it cooks. Keep adding ladlefuls after each previous ladleful has been absorbed. Once you’ve gone through most of the broth, taste the rice to see if it has the texture you want — it should still be firm. I used all but the final half-ladle of broth over the course of 20 minutes cooking time or so. Once you’re done using the broth, toss any remaining mushrooms into the pot.

Once the risotto is done, cover the pot until you’re ready to serve.

To serve, top with a generous amount of grated cheese and chopped fresh parsley.

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