I usually use an exotic dried mushroom blend (from Costco), but you can use any dried mushrooms you like. You can also use sautéed fresh mushrooms or some of each. I use a mortar and pestle to grind the white pepper. If you don’t have one, just put the peppercorns in a plastic bag and use a heavy object to crush them.
Serves 8 as a first course, and 6 as a main.
1 cup dried mushrooms
1 quart plus 2 cups low-salt chicken broth, more if necessary
Pinch saffron (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-large onion, cut into small dice
Kosher salt, to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 white peppercorns, ground to a fine powder
2 cups (1 pound) Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (my go-to is an inexpensive Chilean sauvignon blanc)
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Put the dried mushrooms in a heatproof bowl or large Pyrex liquid measure. Add 3 cups of boiling water and let the mushrooms steep until they are fully re-hydrated and soft. Remove the mushrooms and roughly chop them; reserve 2 cups of the mushroom liquid.
Heat the chicken broth and the reserved mushroom liquid in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add a large pinch of saffron, cover, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and keep the liquid barely simmering throughout the risotto preparation.
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt; sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; continue to cook until fragrant, about another minute. Stir in ground white pepper, and then the rice, stirring constantly to coat and toast the rice, about a minute. Add white wine; simmer, stirring constantly, until almost absorbed.
Add one ladleful of the hot stock; stir constantly until most of it has been absorbed (when you drag your wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot, you shouldn’t see any excess liquid). Add another ladleful of stock; stir constantly until it, too, has all been absorbed. Repeat this process ladle by ladle until the grains of rice are tender and the risotto is very creamy, 20 to 30 minutes. It is important to remember to stir continuously so the rice doesn’t stick or burn and the creamy texture develops. If your arm gets tired, switch arms or find someone to take over.
All rice is different, and risotto is not an exact science. You will probably use all the stock, but if your risotto is done before your saucepan is empty, don’t worry. Similarly, be prepared to add more stock (or some of that extra mushroom liquid) to the saucepan if you think you’ll need more. Remember that for the rice to continue cooking, the stock that you add needs to be hot.
When the risotto is done, add the chopped mushrooms, Parmigiano, and the butter and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and more white pepper, if you like. Serve hot.