When I posted my overnight oats recipe last week, my sis-in-law responded on Instagram that this would make my brother a happy man, because Bircher was one of his favourite breakfasts. Fond as I am of my brother, I didn’t know that. Apparently, busy adult living means you sometimes miss crucial developments in each other’s lives. When I asked him about it, he said he did like Bircher, but that he was actually waiting for me to do a post on one of his real all-time favourite dishes: risotto. So this one’s for him – though it also made the people happy who could finish the plates after capture!
Cooking something special is a wonderful way of showing someone you love them. Though humble-looking, few dishes convey that love better than an attentively cooked, creamy risotto. The possibilities are endless and I’m not sure which version is my own favourite: risotto alla Milanese, risotto with braised fennel and lemon, risotto with fried courgette flowers and basil, with cauliflower or with oven-dried tomatoes… Amongst all this goodness, this mixed mushroom risotto scores high points, though. Made without any butter, cream or Parmesan, it’s a fresh and clean-tasting dish, yet still as creamy and comforting as ever. The big load of juicy fried mushrooms makes sure it’s savoury and satisfying, while the toasted pecans add crunch and the tarragon and parsley oil makes the whole thing fresh and herby. After finishing every last crumb on the plate, my girls begged me to cook this again as soon as possible and I’m only too happy to oblige.
I’ll be the first to admit you can make a perfectly good risotto with stock made from stock cubes, but to make this one extra special, I simmered it with freshly made vegetable and mushroom broth. It takes a bit of an effort, but it does lift the dish to another level. To make the stock, I use pan-seared veg, fresh mushrooms and dried porcini, which yield a full-flavoured umami broth with just the right mushroom flavour for a mushroom risotto. To keep the work load down, you can simmer the broth the day before you want to use it, or prep it in the weekend and keep it in the freezer until using. Besides this risotto, it makes a wonderful base for, well, almost anything, so if you want to give it a go, you can find the recipe here.
Now back to risotto as a token of affection. I can be brief about that: whether you cook this for your family, your siblings, a special Valentine or as a treat to yourself, I can guarantee it will come across as a well-deserved hug.
Mushroom risotto with tarragon oil and pecan nuts – serves 4
for the risotto:
- 500 g mixed fresh mushrooms of choice (I used chestnut mushrooms, shiitake, nameko and eryngii), sliced
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 250 g arborio rice
- 100 ml dry white wine
- 1 l vegetable or mushroom stock, fresh or from good-quality cubes
for the tarragon oil:
- 15 g tarragon, chopped
- 15 g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 100 ml rapeseed oil
- course sea salt, to taste
Plus: 100 g pecan nuts
Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the sliced garlic and infuse for a minute, then turn up the heat and add the mushrooms. Stirring regularly, fry the mushrooms for 5-8 minutes until they are cooked and nicely browned all over. Take off the heat, discard the garlic slices and set aside.
Heat the oven to 190°C/425°F/Gas 5. Spread the pecan nuts over a lined baking sheet. Toast them for 5 minutes, then coarsely chop them and set aside.
To make the tarragon oil, mix the rapeseed oil with the chopped herbs and season to taste. Set aside.
In a large cooking pan, heat the second tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the shallots until translucent, then add the chopped garlic. Cook the garlic for a minute until fragrant. Turn up the heat, add the risotto rice and stir until the kernels are toasted and coverded with oil. Pour in the wine and cook to nothing to make the alcohol evaporate. Lower the heat to medium, then add a ladleful of the stock, stirring well to prevent the rice from sticking to the pan. Add a new ladleful of stock as soon as the last addition has been absorbed. Continue to simmer and stir until the rice is creamy, plump and tender. This will take about 20 minutes. If the stock is finished before the rice is cooked, add a splash of water at the final stages.
Briefly reheat the mushrooms in the frying pan. Stir half of them through the risotto, then divide the risotto over four plates or bowls. Serve immediately, topped with the remaining mushrooms, the toasted pecans and a generous spoonful of the tarragon oil.