Risotto is one of those dishes that people love to order at restaurants, but are usually too intimidated to make at home. We were definitely those people. Last year we figured it was time to see what all the fuss was about: is it really that hard to make risotto at home, on a weeknight? Well friends, it turns out it really isn’t that bad after all. In fact, we’re liking at-home risotto even better because you can eat it in your sweatpants, while sitting on the couch; and, nobody will know if you sneak in seconds (which you probably will). So grab some garlic, onions, mushrooms, cheese - and let’s get started. Risotto comes together in a flash, and as you’ll see, it waits for no one.
The process for risotto is pretty straightforward. In one pot, you’ll heat up hot stock and keep it simmering until you need it. In a second pan, you’ll saute your aromatics, add the carnaroli (or arborio) rice, a ladle or two of hot stock, and then stir occasionally until the mixture absorbs the liquid. Then it’s time to add another ladle full of hot stock, stir, and repeat. Using hot stock is key to maintaining an even temperature as your rice cooks. And yes, the rumors are true: you will need to stand over the pan and watch it cook. No, you won’t need to be constantly stirring, so it won’t be as much of an arm workout as some make it out to be. And even better: this dish cooks in 16-20 minutes, so it really isn’t too much longer than cooking your favorite pasta. Do yourself a favor and have all your ingredients ready to go, because once your rice gets cooking, it’s going to come together quickly…whether you’re ready or not!
Since the star of this show is mushrooms, we use them in two ways. The first is to pulverize dried mushrooms into a powder (in the blender). It’s a similar approach to what we use in our Creamy Vegan Ramen recipe, and it makes for the most savory, umami-packed stock. It might sound odd, but trust us: this method creates a much deeper, more mushroom-y flavor than what you’ll find in store-bought mushroom stock. Plus, we find that good quality vegetable stock is much easier to buy at the store than the mushroom variety. Then, the second way we’ll use mushrooms is to saute some of your favorite fresh mushrooms for serving. We like to use a mixture of shiitake and cremini mushrooms, but you can easily substitute these with whatever other types of mushroom you prefer.
We tested a variety of methods for the sauteed mushrooms, and our favorite approach is to cook them in a separate pan when your risotto is almost done cooking. Besides, you’re standing at the stove anyways, so you can easily multi-task. When cooked separately, you can nestle the warm mushrooms into a bed of creamy risotto, garnish and serve. These are the instructions included below. That said, if you want to save dirtying another pan, you could cook off the mushrooms first, set them aside, and then use the same pan to cook the risotto. The downside of this method is that the mushrooms won’t stay warm while the risotto cooks, so plan to fold them into the cooked risotto at the end to heat them up. It’s totally your choice. Personally, we’re partial to getting creamy spoonfuls of straight-up risotto, and then bites of sauteed mushrooms; but we definitely didn’t complain when they were all mixed together! However, if you are going to mix the mushrooms into the risotto, do so at the end (and avoid the temptation of mixing them in as the rice is starting to cook). Risotto is best served warm, straight from the pan. Garnish with cheese, if desired, and top with fresh parsley.
Creamy Mushroom Risotto
- 0.7 oz dried shiitake mushrooms (see note 1)
- 7 cups vegetable broth (see note 2)
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided (see note 3)
- 1 yellow onion, minced (about 2 cups)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ cups carnaroli rice (or arborio rice, see note 4)
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lb mushrooms, sliced (ideally a mix of fresh shiitake and cremini)
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese (more for garnish, see note 5)
- Chopped flat-leaf parsley (for garnish)
- Prepare broth: Add dried shiitakes to a high speed blender, and blend until a fine powder. Let the powder settle before opening blender lid. Add 4 cups of stock, and blend on low speed until powder is incorporated. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add the remaining 3 cups of vegetable stock. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Set aside a ladle for transferring stock to the risotto.
- Cook risotto: Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large, wide heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rice, cook for 1 minute, stirring to coat. Ladle about 1½ cups of hot stock over the rice. Stir in ½ teaspoon of the salt, and the pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, to prevent the rice from sticking. When the broth is almost absorbed, add about 1 cup of broth at a time and repeat (see note 2). Cook until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy, 16 to 22 minutes. (Do not overcook, otherwise rice will be mushy).
- Cook mushrooms: (When the rice is 5 to 10 minutes away from finishing, start this step.) In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add mushrooms and thyme. Cook until mushrooms are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the remaining ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Remove from heat.
- Assemble: Gently stir the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and Parmesan into the rice. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Spoon risotto into dishes, top with mushrooms, and garnish with parsley and more cheese.
- Dried shiitake mushrooms: Dried shiitake are often sold sliced or as whole mushrooms. Either forms of dried shiitake works for this recipe, since they'll get blended into powder. It's difficult to measure dried mushrooms in a measuring cup, so use a scale if you have one. This recipe has been developed and tested with dried shiitake mushrooms. Dried porcini have a more distinctive flavor and are much more intense (also, more expensive!); we do not recommend substituting them here 1:1. You can find dried shiitake at well-stocked grocery stores, Asian markets, or online.
- Vegetable broth: Select a high-quality vegetable broth if you can, so that the flavors really shine. Use your favorite brand here, it'll be worth it. We love the Better than Bouillon Organic Seasoned Vegetable Base (we buy the large jars at Costco).
While cooking, the rice may absorb anywhere from 5 to 7 cups of broth (for one batch of this recipe). So, you may have some leftover broth. If for some reason you run short, simply add more.
- Vegan butter substitute: Use meltable vegan butter or substitute with extra virgin olive oil.
- Carnaroli rice and Arborio rice: Carnaroli rice is often referred to as the “king” of Italian rice. It looks very similar to Arborio, however it makes for a slightly creamier dish - and as an added benefit, it's a bit more resistant to overcooking. Use carnaroli rice if you can find it, otherwise go for Arborio (but don't substitute for any other kind of rice).
- Parmesan cheese: Imported Parmesan cheese typically contains animal-based rennet. If you wish to avoid this, look for cheese labelled as "vegetarian friendly" or lists "microbial enzymes" as an ingredient (instead of rennet). Asiago cheese is also a good alternative. For a vegan option, use a meltable vegan shredded Parmesan cheese - or leave it out from this recipe and season with more salt.