A few years ago I finally got around to reading Michael Pollan’s decade-old book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I loved the entire book, but as I read Chapter 19: Gathering: The Fungi, he lost me. I am a pretty adventuresome cook, but I doubt I will ever feel comfortable roaming around in the forest collecting mushrooms and then chowing down on them. No amount of field identification guides and training is going to get me there.
Of course, if we were in Italy, none of this would be a problem. We’d connect up with foragers who know the local woods like the back of their hands. These people never got any training, but learned from their grandparents how to identify safe mushrooms and bring them home to cook. But unfortunately, we don’t have many foragers, or even forests in Los Angeles—unless you want to go forage around Griffith Park.
That’s why I have “wild” mushroom in quotes. At Asian grocery stores (especially Korean stores in L.A.), you can find an amazing array of exotic and cultivated mushrooms at inexpensive prices. Even Costco carries amazing morels and chanterelles at certain times of the year. Only the famous Italian porcini mushroom is nearly impossible to find in California, but most stores carry dried porcini all year round.
So, enter “wild” mushroom risotto! This terrific preparation uses cultivated “wild” mushrooms to the fullest.
It makes 4 servings as a first course.
- Small package dried porcini mushrooms (10-20 grams)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 4 tbsp butter (divided)
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 2 cups Arborio rice (or other risotto rice)
- 8 cups chicken stock, preferably home made, seasoned with salt to taste
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 3 packages of exotic mushrooms such as maitake, bunashumi or black baby oyster mushrooms
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for additional coarse grating
- Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a glass container (e.g., large measuring cup). Pour hot boiling water over the mushrooms to reconstitute. Leave for about 15 mins.
- Warm the chicken broth in a pot to a simmer. Taste to make sure the salt level is the same you would expect in soup. Add salt as needed.
- Remove the porcini mushrooms from the water by hand and squeeze to remove excess water and place on a cutting board and dice. Pour the mushroom liquid through the coffee filter and add to the hot chicken broth.
- In a heavy flat-bottomed pot over medium heat, add 2 tbsp of extra-virgin olive and warm. Add the diced onion with a sprinkle of salt and gently cook until the onion is softened and translucent. Cover the pot to speed the process.
- Add the risotto rice and the chopped porcini and stir until the rice becomes translucent.
- Add the white wine and stir to evaporate.
- Begin to add the warm chicken broth, one ladle at a time. As you add the broth, stir to let the broth absorb into the rice. You will continue this for about 20-30 minutes until the rice is creamy and use just a little bit left.
- In the meantime, remove the remaining mushrooms from their root ball and separate. In a sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and melt. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until they become dark golden brown and a little crispy – approximately 15 minutes.
- Finish the risotto by mixing in 2 tablespoons of butter and ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese.
- Serve the risotto in warm plates, top with the sautéed mushrooms and coarse-grate Parmesan cheese over everything.
• Coffee filter in a drip coffee funnel
• Heavy flat-bottomed pan
• Large-hole cheese grater