Fall colors and romance. That was the plan.
A boutique hotel in Connecticut, surrounded by gorgeous countryside, within easy walking distance of antique shops and an award-winning restaurant. The room had an iron bath tub, a four-poster bed and working log fireplace. Breakfast was, apparently, famous for miles around, ask anyone, just say “pancakes” and they’ll tell you, and served until noon.
In short it was going to be a terribly romantic weekend, and Jon and I had been looking forward to it.
And I’m sure it would have been a terribly romantic weekend if we’d ever got there.
Friday afternoon, Jon called, and even on the phone he sounded pale.
Thieves disguised as students had broken into the Physics Department at NYU while everyone was having a lunchtime lecture, and cleared the place out. Jon’s laptop had been stolen. All his work. And all the work that he was doing for his boss who needed it pretty urgently as soon as possible. He filed a police report, and then he had to face the truth; there was nothing for it. He would have to work all weekend.
So instead of looking at trees and reading my new John Grisham book by the fire in Connecticut, I spent the day in New Jersey at Ikea buying and then building a bench.
For the record; this is the opposite of romance.
And so it is a tribute to the incredible therapeutic properties of risotto stirring, that even on an evening that could have felt a bit sad, coziness, happiness, yes, even romance, was restored.
Risotto with wild mushrooms – (serves 2 – 4 if you add a salad and maybe some bread)1 cup Arborio rice 3 cups hot chicken stock 1 cup white wine 1 orange 1’4 cup diced pancetta (or a couple of rashers of bacon chopped up into lardons) 1 medium onion 2 – 3 tbsp butter 1 tbsp olive oil ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese 500g wild mushrooms 2 cloves of garlic 1 sprig thyme salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 425f
- Brush the mushrooms to clean them, and slice any really large ones in half or quarters.
- Put the mushrooms into an oven dish with 1 tbsp of butter and a splash of olive oil. Add the thyme sprig, grate over the garlic and the zest from about half the orange (zest the whole orange and set the rest aside).
- Season well, then cover with foil and bake for 15 mins.
- Get started on the risotto (more detailed notes can be found here)
- Dice the onion, season well and fry gently with the pancetta in a little splash of olive oil until soft
- Add the rice and stir in the heat to toast lightly. Pour in the wine and the juice from the orange, and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan into the sauce
- Start stirring. Add stock a ladle full at a time, keep the heat low and stir it in gently until the rice absorbs it. Add another ladle full.
- When the mushroom timer goes off, turn off the heat, and leave the mushrooms in the oven out of the way to say warm.
- Keep going for about 20 – 25 mins, until the rice is soft but still has a little bite, and the stock is gone (you may need slightly more, in which case, hot water is fine). The risotto should have a texture somewhere between a fork and a spoon.
- Stir in the rest of the butter and most of the cheese. The risotto should become really creamy. Stir in the mushrooms, and let the risotto sit off the heat for a couple of minutes to relax. It seems strange but it makes a difference.
- Scatter the reserved cheese over the top, along with a little of the reserved zest.
- Serve in warmed bowls.
If You Can Make That You Can Make This
- Drop a few drops of truffle oil over the top of each dish
- Use dried porcini instead of fresh – soak in 3 cups of water for an hour. Rinse the mushrooms under a tap to get rid of grit. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve and use in place of the stock, adding the mushrooms at the end. Grate garlic into the onion and rice before adding the stock.
- Leave out the orange and make a plain wild mushroom risotto
- Play up the orange more by adding a splash of Lillet instead of wine
- Or try roasting squash instead of mushrooms with this risotto
- Or try one of these risottos