I first made Marcella Hazan’s Tuscan meat loaf almost 45 years ago. I was a graduate student on a research fellowship in Cambridge, Massachusetts and had kitchen privileges at the home where I was rooming. As the owners were away for the summer, I felt free to invite a couple over for dinner who were as passionate about food and cooking as I was. At that time, pre-internet, I only had a few cookbooks in my room and Hazan’s The Italian Classic Cookbook was my most recent acquisition. I combed through the book looking for something different, something that might surprise my guests as much by its novelty as by its flavor. About midway through, I found it: Polpettone alla Toscana, Meatloaf Braised in White Wine with Dried Wild Mushrooms. Read more
Last year, I posted my first recipe for a risotto and, in that post, discussed the performance anxiety I used to experience whenever I attempted to make one. Yet despite having conquered that fear, I haven’t made a risotto since then. I really don’t know why.
Yesterday afternoon, however, right after a brief rain shower, it finally began to feel like fall in New York City. And I thought that, after a week of meat-centric dining, a mushroom risotto would be a seasonally welcome change. A cursory cookbook search led me to an easy recipe for a wild mushroom risotto in Giada De Laurentiis’s first cookbook, Everyday Italian.
Because of the the recipe’s proportion of cultivated to dried wild mushrooms (10 ounces to 1/2 ounce respectively), I dropped the word “wild” from the title of my post. Nevertheless, that small quantity of porcini infuses the more affordable white variety with considerable flavor and and complexity.
Being a disciple of Marcella Hazan, I modified the recipe a little. First, I toasted the rice for a couple of minutes, coating it with the fat from the pan. (In fact, the website version of the recipe does the same.) Second, to enrich the finished dish and give it a more creamy texture, I mounted it with a tablespoon of unsalted butter as I added the cheese.
Mushroom Risotto with Peas Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis Serves 4 as a main dish; 8 as a side.
5 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 -ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup unsalted butter + 1 to 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
10 ounces white mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring the broth to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the porcini mushrooms. Cover and set aside until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the porcini mushrooms to a cutting board and chop fine. Keep the broth warm over very low heat.
Melt the 1/4 butter in a heavy large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes.
Add the white mushrooms and the porcini. Sauté until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so.
Stir in the rice and let it toast, stirring for a few minutes.
Add the wine; cook, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of hot broth; simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes.
Continue to cook until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring often, about 28 minutes. (The rice may not absorb all of broth.)
Stir in the peas. Remove from the heat.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter (two if you’re not counting calories) and stir in with the Parmigiano Reggiano. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Here is a link to the Food Network’s recipe and video. (Note that the online version of the recipe calls for 8 cups of broth, which I find to be excessive.)
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir
Performance anxiety. It’s a terrible affliction, especially in the kitchen. I know this first hand, having experienced it for quite some time, until yesterday, when I decided to confront this fear head on.
It started about 15 years ago when on one winter’s eve, I failed at making a risotto. I had successfully prepared so many versions of this dish so many times before. It was a staple of my culinary repertoire. But on that fateful night, I just couldn’t do it; those pesky grains of rice just refused to come together and make that creamy mass of goodness. Was it hubris? Had I been over confident? All I remember now is how my guests politely smiled at my table as they strategically picked through their portions, picking out the few edible grains of rice, and waited patiently until I announced that we were ready for the next course.
To make matters worse, shortly thereafter, these same guests invited me to their home for dinner. When I asked what’s cooking, the hostess smiled demurely and said “You’ll see,” and then disappeared for about twenty minutes into the kitchen.
When we finally sat down to dinner, she appeared at the table with an oval tureen. Her eyes focused on me as she raised its lid to reveal an aromatic butternut-squash risotto. Not only was it beautiful with deeply colored chunks of squash, glowing grains of rice, it was absolutely delicious. Perfectly cooked al dente grains of creamy rice enveloped sweet roasted cubes of butternut squash. “Delicious,” I exclaimed (albeit enviously), and my friend shot me a knowing smile and said softly, with just a hint of sarcasm, “That’s how it’s done.”
After that evening, every time I wanted to prepare risotto, I thought of my failed attempt and heard my friend’s voice saying “That’s how it’s done.” I couldn’t bring myself to make one. I knew the steps, had learned the tricks. I had read so many recipes, watched so many chefs prepare their plain or fancy versions, bought so many varieties of Italian rice from traditional Arborio to Carnaroli to Vialone Nano. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I just couldn’t do it.
Then, yesterday, faced with a lot of left over chicken stock from a few nights ago, an abundant supply of dried porcini, and several packages of Italian rice in the cupboard, I thought it was time. Rather than going to my cookbook collection, I dug up a recipe from television chef Ina Garten that I had seen her prepare a while ago and always wanted to make.
I bought the few ingredients from the recipe that I didn’t have on hand—some fresh crimini mushrooms, a couple of shallots. I dug out my favorite, long-neglected enameled cast iron risotto pot, and opened a bottle of wine. I took a deep breath, a few swigs of wine, and started to prep.
I soaked the dried porcini, finely chopped the shallots, diced the pancetta, heated the stock, measured out the rice, the saffron, and grated the cheese. So far, so good. Maybe another sip of wine. Had I already finished a glass?
Onto the cooking. I melted the butter, sautéed the shallots and pancetta. The aromas encouraged me to proceed. It was time for the rice. One more sip of wine. The rice went into the pot and I coated the grains with the melted butter. They started to take on a pearly glow. A sigh of relief and another sip of wine. The rice was now ready for the stock to which I had added the soaking liquid from the porcini. The first two ladles. I was sweating now. Stirring (and sipping), I watched the pot as the rice started to absorb the stock. I added the soaked porcini and the saffron. “It’s smelling good in there,” I heard from the living room. Encouraged again, I proceeded, now standing erect and confident at the pot.
I continued adding the ladlefuls of stock, stirring, watching, and occasionally tasting for the next twenty of minutes. Finally, it was done. I took the pot off the heat, stirred in the grated Parmigiano, and tasted for seasoning. Perfect! One final, triumphant, swig of wine, and I announced: “We’re ready.” Seated at the table, after one taste, my spouse looked up at me, smiled, and said: “Now, that’s how it’s done.” My risotto mojo is back.
Wild Mushroom Risotto Adapted from Ina Garten
1 -ounce dried morel mushrooms (I used dried porcini.)
1/2 pound fresh porcini or cremini mushrooms (I opted for cremini.)
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup chopped shallots (3 shallots)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (I used superfine carnaroli; I prefer its texture.)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over them. Set aside for 30 minutes. Scoop the mushrooms from the water with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. You should have 2 cups; if not, add water to make 2 cups. Drain the mushrooms and rinse once more. If some of the mushrooms are large, cut into 2 or 3 pieces. Pour the mushroom liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel, discarding the gritty solids. Set the mushrooms and the liquid aside separately.
Meanwhile, remove and discard the stems of the fresh mushrooms and rub any dirt off the caps with a damp paper towel. Don’t rinse them! Slice thickly and set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock with the 2 cups of reserved mushroom liquid and bring to a simmer.
In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and sauté the pancetta and shallots over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add the rehydrated and fresh mushrooms and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter.
Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of the chicken stock mixture to the rice plus the saffron, salt, and pepper. Stir and simmer over low heat until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock mixture, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry before adding more of the stock mixture. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 25 to 30 minutes total. When done, the risotto should be thick and creamy and not at all dry. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese. Serve hot in bowls with extra cheese.
Here’s a link to the original recipe on the Food Network Website.
Wine Pairing: Montepulicano d’Abruzzo, Dolcetto D’Acqui
Being somewhat of an impulse shopper, I managed to amass quite a stash of dried porcini, woodsy dried mushrooms that, when rehydrated, impart loads of flavor to a dish. Although these mushrooms have a good shelf life, they won’t last forever. To their rescue, another recipe from Giuliano Hazan’s Every Night Italian: Chicken Braised with Porcini Mushrooms.
Rather than cutting up a whole chicken as called for by the recipe, I used only thighs. The chicken is browned on all sides and then braised with sautéed thinly sliced onions, chopped pancetta, re-hydrated dried porcini, tomatoes, parsley, and the mushroom soaking liquid for 40-45 minutes with the pan cover slightly askew. This makes for a thick rich sauce with deep mushroom flavor.
Here’s a link to the recipe online. Chicken Braised with Porcini Mushrooms.
Wine Pairing: Rosso di Montalcino
It was raining yesterday while I was searching for a recipe for dinner. Somehow the weather made me want a stew but one that wasn’t too heavy for spring. It wasn’t long before I settled on having veal and found a wonderful recipe for a veal stew with mushrooms in Hazan Family Favorites by Giuliano Hazan.
It’s amazing how just a few ingredients, veal, onion, mushrooms, sage, with a little butter, olive oil, wine, and cream, can come together to create such a delicious dish. Like his mother, Marcella, Giuliano uses techniques that are simple and straightforward.
However, this type of minimalist cooking requires using the best ingredients: milk-fed veal, fresh sage, young mushrooms, and drink-worthy wine.
This recipe makes for a stew with extremely tender meat and concentrated flavors. It yields enough for 4 servings.
Veal Stew with Mushrooms adapted from Hazan Family Favorites by Giuliano Hazan.
1.5 lbs of boneless veal trimmed and cut into 1.5 inch cubes
1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper
2-3 teaspoons fresh chopped sage
1/4 cup dry Pinot Grigio or other dry white wine
3/4 pound large white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1. Heat butter and olive oil over medium hight heat in a large dutch over, preferably enameled cast iron.
2. When the butter finishes sizzling, brown the veal on all sides, working in batches so that the meat will brown and not steam. Remove each batch to a platter and season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the onion to the pot and sauté stirring until it is soft for around 3 minutes, scraping up any of the browned bits from the veal on the bottom of the pot. The onion will take on a brown color from the pot.
4. Add the wine to the pot and let the alcohol evaporate for about 30 seconds.
5. Return the browned veal to the pan, along with any of the juices that have accumulated on the platter.
6. Reduce the heat to low and let the meat cook at a steady simmer with the lid of the pot slightly ajar for 1 hour. Stir every 15 minutes, adding a small amount of water if all the liquid in the pot evaporates. This can be tricky, The amount of liquid is minimal and much less than there is in a typical braise. Being quick with the stirring will reduce the evaporation.
7. After the hour’s cooking, add the mushrooms, season with a little more salt and pepper, and stir. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, at the same temperature and with the lid ajar for at least 30 minutes or until the veal is very tender.
8. Uncover and raise the heat to medium-high and let most of the liquid in the pot evaporate. Then add the cream and cook until the cream thickly coats a wooden spoon.
9. Sprinkle with parsley and serve hot on warmed plates with steamed white rice.
Wine Pairing: Soave, Pinot Grigio, Chablis
Yesterday, I found some really good looking yellow-fin tuna steaks at the market. So when I got home, I scoured my cookbooks to look for a new recipe for these beauties. As I didn’t want it to be a late night, time was a deciding factor in my choice.
I turned to Giuliano Hazan’s Every Night Italian, a great source for dishes that can be prepared in 45 minutes or less, and found just what I was looking for: “Fresh Tuna Steaks with Marsala and Mushrooms.”
It’s a recipe that takes 20 minutes from start to finish and yields a succulent dish, with the Marsala perfectly tying the knot between the meaty tuna and the earthy mushrooms.
Here’s a link to the recipe online.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir. Look for one with no more than 13.5% alcohol.