By Louise Liebenberg
I ALWAYS enjoy cooking with mushrooms, not least because they are versatile, affordable and add a useful “meaty” element when catering for vegetarians.
There are many exciting varieties commercially available nowadays – you can try shiitake and shimejii, portabellini and king brown … or how about maitake, enoki and oyster?
It seems there is little reason to stick to the boring old brown (or even more ubiquitous white button) somewhat reviled, like iceberg lettuce, by the likes of British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
Exotic mushrooms represent a spectrum of complex flavours suited to anything from lightning-fast stirfries and trendy tapas, to delicate Asian-style broths and creamy Italian risottos.
According to the SA Mushroom Farmers’ Association they really are nature’s “miracles” – so much so that they are now considered a “superfood” like broccoli and blueberries. Some nutritionists even believe mushrooms could help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Mushrooms contain virtually no fat, sugar or salt and are a valuable source of dietary fibre as well as the five B vitamins and essential minerals like copper, phosphorous and iron.
Interestingly, they also contain selenium, which is not found in very many fruits and vegetables.
Scroll down for a delicious and easy recipe for a fantastic risotto made either with wild mushrooms (do ask an expert) or shop exotics like the ones in our picture, which were sourced at Woolworths.
Later this week we’ll also share other interesting facts about mushrooms and why it’s worth including them in your diet.
Mushroom Risotto – The Recipe
Risottos are easy to make, they just require about half an hour of dedicated stirring, so get ready to take to your post with gusto! Also, the secret is that you must have hot stock on hand, so keep a jug or pot of it by you while stirring so you don’t have to drop what you’re doing. This recipe was slightly adapted from one that has become a bit of a signature dish of Salvelio’s best friend, Julio Carlos Perez Sanchez, in Spain. Whenever he comes to visit us in South Africa, we coax him into making this risotto as part of a spread of tapas – it’s a nice one to end off on.
When he feels like economising, Julio uses one punnet of regular white button mushrooms along with some wild mushrooms from the country which, when home in Spain, he will usually pick himself.
I simply used one of the Woolworths punnets of exotic mushrooms, supplemented with a few garden variety ones (ok, NOT garden variety!)
Do note that a risotto is not something that keeps well – once you have made it, you have to serve and eat it or it could become a soggy mess.
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped; 1 big onion, chopped; 250g exotic mushrooms (set aside a few of the pretty ones for garnishing); 2 cups short-grained (Arborio) rice; about 1.5 litre of good-quality beef stock (use vegetable stock if catering for vegetarians); salt and freshly-ground black pepper; ½ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated; olive oil for frying; parsley for garnishing
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the garlic and onions, then adding the mushrooms which you will have sliced as needed. Don’t forget to keep a few of the prettier exotic mushrooms aside for garnishing later.
When this is cooked add a bit of salt and pepper for seasoning, bearing in mind the stock will also contain some salt.
Speaking of stock, you can in the meantime start getting it ready on the side.
Add the rice to your onion and mushroom mixture and using a wooden spoon stir through thoroughly (but gently) to make sure the rice is well coated with the mixture and oil; you may need to add a wee bit more oil if needed.
Now start pouring in a little stock at a time, mixing continually on medium heat each time and allowing the liquid to be soaked up somewhat before adding the next lot. Do note this is where the serious stirring comes in – you will need to stay with this process for a dedicated half and hour, so set a timer to help you through it when you start doing the stock thing.
The idea is to create a dish that is really creamy, unlike something like paella where you touch the rice as little as possible in order to keep the grains of rice perfectly intact but cooked through.
You may actually need slightly less than the 1.5 litres of beef stock – we used 100ml short of this but you’ll have to play it by ear.
About five minutes before the time is up, add the parmesan and stir though till completely incorporated. In the meantime also fry the few mushrooms you had set aside for garnishing in a bit of olive oil, just so they get a nice bit of sheen and colour.
Plate up and garnish with the mushrooms as well as some finely chopped flat-leaf parsley. Serve immediately.