It’s no secret I’m no fan of winter. One of the only things I like about it is the hearty meals, which I why I make a lot of soup (like this one with onions, or mixed legumes, cauliflower, or butternut squash, or using my own chicken stock), lasagnas and pasta baked in the oven, and of course risotto.
Risotto is one of those things which can be intimidating at first (when is it done? how much liquid do I add? how long should I be stirring?) but after you do it several times, you get a sense for all of these things. Practice, practice, practice. And a lot of tasting. Not sure? Stick a spoon in there and taste, especially for rice ‘doneness’ — you want it firm (‘al dente‘) but not undercooked. Not overcooked, nor undercooked. Got it? :)
So while I can see the back of winter approaching (so long, sucker!), I’m starting to use these last chilly days to get in my favorite winter meals before everything becomes fresh & light once again.
Sautéed mushrooms in wine are one of my favorite things to make. I can easily eat a whole bowl of them by myself and I used to sneak them from the bowl my mom would set them in while she was making the main entree they would accompany. I love taking those mushrooms a step further and incorporating that deliciousness into a risotto. For a little simpler fare (or vegetarian), you can omit the sausage but I think the two go very well together.
Sausage and Mushroom Risotto
Serves 3-4. If you can’t find sausage in casing, slice & chop up sausage so the pieces mix in well – you don’t want giant rounds of sausage in this dish, which should have uniform bites and should just cling together.
300g (10oz) pork sausage (in casing)
1 small onion, chopped
300g (10oz) champignon mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
Homemade vegetable broth, about 1 liter (4 cups) — recipe below
250g Arborio (short grain) rice
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (optional)
- Make the vegetable broth as described below, or if using canned broth, bring to a low simmer on another burner while preparing the following ingredients. You’ll need this broth to be hot by the time you add the rice in step 6.
- Squeeze the sausage out of its casing into a large frying pan heated on medium-high heat (discard the casing), and break the sausage into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon. Alternatively, you can brown it in larger pieces and chop up the sausage after removing from the heat in the next step, but it will cook faster in smaller pieces. Brown the sausage on all sides.
- Remove the sausage from the heat and onto a plate. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Leave a tablespoon of the sausage fat in the frying pan and remove the rest. Add 1 tablespoon of butter.
- Add the chopped onion and sweat it for several minutes on medium heat. After the onions have turned slightly translucent, add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 5-7 minutes on medium-high heat, until they start to sweat out moisture and reduce their size.
- Add the chopped sausage back to the mushroom & onion mixture, and pour 1/2 cup (or several glugs, enough to cover the bottom of the pan) of white wine and stir until absorbed completely.
- Add the rice to the mixture and mix completely, cooking the mixture for a few minutes so that the rice grains start to heat up and become translucent.
- Add 1-2 ladles (1/2 cup or so) of vegetable broth to the mixture, and stir gently until absorbed. Continue to add more broth one ladle at a time, stirring gently to incorporate, until the rice is cooked al dente (should be around 25-30 minutes).
- Take the risotto off the heat, and stir in some grated parmigiano cheese, and add an extra sprinkle to each plated serving.
Ideally your broth would simmer for several hours to develop a great flavor; after which you would strain out the vegetables from the mixture and either use it immediately or freeze it for later use. In this case, I was short on time so I started to set it to boil before sautéing the sausage, and started ladling it in as it continued to simmer.
2 stalks celery (including the tops)
1 small onion
2-3 cloves garlic
Optional: 1-2 cherry tomatoes (cut open)
Optional: Bay leaf, sage, rosemary
- Chop up all the vegetables into uniform (equally-sized) pieces and add them to a large pot on a medium flame with a tablespoon (or glug) of the olive oil and a pinch of salt and fresh cracked pepper. Sweat the vegetables for a few minutes to start to release some of their flavor.
- Add 4-5 cups water (a liter or so) and increase flame to bring the whole thing to a healthy simmer (bubbling but not boiling over). Once it starts to boil, lower the heat so the mixture simmers slowly.
- Take the mixture off the heat, and allow to cool until safe to handle. Strain the vegetables from the broth and use immediately, or let it cool down to store in the fridge for a few days, or freeze for up to a few weeks (some say it’s good even after a few months).
Have you mastered risotto? What are your favorite ingredients to put in it?
A #protip from my friend Nicola: “If you want to render it even creamier at the end if you add a little butter when you mix in the parmigiano, stirring quickly to incorporate a little air.”