Don’t Be Afraid of the R Word

I know quite a few home chefs that are afraid of the dreaded R word—that being risotto. I am here to tell you do not be afraid. In my kitchen the R word that strikes fear in my heart is actually rice.

OK, I know how funny… hahaha… I can’t cook rice, but I can cook risotto. And, yes, I get that I went to culinary school and have yet to master rice. Laugh all you want, but my rice either comes out slightly crunchy, very gooey, or scorched to the bottom of the pan. Please, please don’t send your instructions for fool-proof rice. I am a fool. Your recipes will not work on me!

Back to the Italian version of rice. People are afraid of risotto because they have been told it’s time intensive and you have to get the consistency just right. To which I say, Bah! If everyday Italians can come home on Monday night and whip up some risotto, so can everyday Americans, especially Americans who have no sense of how to cook rice. This recipe (with my own modifications) came from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking. (And, yes, my shipment of used Cook’s Encyclopedias came complete with sticky notes from the previous owners.)

Leek, Mushroom and Lemon Risotto

Serves 4

  • 8 oz trimmed leeks
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms (I used a blend of wild mushrooms from Whole Foods.)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 6 T butter (I might have used more… oops)
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • Scant 1¾ C Arborio rice (This is critical. You need a round, short-grain rice so that it sucks up the liquid and releases starches, thus creating that creamy texture of risotto. Fortunately, Arborio is found at just about every supermarket now.)
  • 5 C hot vegetable stock (I poured 5 C boiling water over dehydrated mushrooms and a sprig of thyme rather than using veggie stock. Let the ‘shrooms sit while you start the recipe. The “stock” will be ready when you need it. Remove the thyme, but add the mushrooms as you ladle in the stock.)
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ⅔ C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ C mixed chopped fresh chives and flat leaf parsley

As with all of the cookbooks in this series, the recipe comes with pictorial step-by-step instructions. Very helpful and yet slightly hysterical.

Wash the leeks well. Slice in half lengthwise and roughly chop. Wipe the mushrooms with paper towels and roughly chop.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the garlic for 1 minute. (This is overkill. Heat the oil and the garlic, then dump in the other bits right quick or else you have the chance of getting burned garlic.) Add the leeks, mushrooms, onions, and plenty of seasoning (salt and pepper, I presume) and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until softened and browned. Remove from pan and set aside.

OK, so to be fair, I missed that previous sentence and just went ahead with the recipe without removing the leeks and mushrooms. Guess what? It took a bit longer but came out just fine. Yeah, for one pot cooking.

Add 2 T butter to the pan and cook the onion (oops! I added them in the above step… soooo I just dumped in a few tablespoons of butter at this point and stirred it a bit. Full disclosure: This is what happens when I tipsy cook. I kind of forget how to read and just wing it—which is better than the last time I tipsy cooked and ended up slicing off half of my finger nail. Yeah, that was gross.) Anyway, if you add the onions at this point, cook them for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice and cook for 1 minute. (Note: The rice will immediately absorb the liquid released from the onions, leeks, and mushrooms.) Add a ladleful of stock to the pan and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed.

Stir in more liquid as each ladleful is absorbed; this should take 20-25 minutes (mine took longer since I had all those veggies in the pot). The risotto will turn thick and creamy, and the rice should be tender but not sticky. Again, as I was ladling in the liquid, I was also adding my reconstituted mushrooms. So, I had more than 8 oz of mushrooms in this dish. It was also at this point that I was mixing in bits of butter. Just because I’m sick in the head for butter.

Just before serving, stir in the leeks, mushrooms, remaining butter, grated lemon zest, and 3 T of lemon juice, and half the cheese and herbs. Adjust the seasoning and serve, sprinkled with the remaining Parm and herbs. Serve with lemon wedges.

Results

Well, I didn’t serve with lemon wedges, but as I added the juice of an entire lemon (rather than 3 T) it was bright and lemony. I made copious mistakes, yet this recipe still came out incredibly tasty. You really can’t go wrong with starches and cheese.

Risotto in the pot

I forgot to snap a pic before serving it up. This is all that was leftover.

As with most risottos, this dish makes an easy main course. But, if you feel the need, it is a rather hearty side dish. (I’d suggest steak or something equally large and filling if you’re going to go crazy time and use it as a side.)

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