Yup folks, since yesterday it’s officially autumn. Now I know it’s still hot as Hades, but there is a decided nip in the early morning air. March and April are just my favourite, favourite months of year. Still some super sweet lush summer fruits like grapes on offer, but crisp apples are starting to make their appearance along with gorgeous plump pomegranates, deep purple figs and one of these days even quince. And then there are the mushrooms. Few other veggies evoke the lush, earthy fullness of autumn for me quite like mushrooms do. After six months of munching on leaves, I’m all ‘saladed’ out and really starting to long for warmer comfort food – food like risotto, which I cook almost exclusively during the colder months. They don’t come any simpler than mushroom risotto.
You could push the boat out with an exotic mushroom mix and throw in dried porcini for their intense mushroom flavour too. Heck, a few shavings of truffle would not be amiss in a luxury mushroom risotto either. But these are lean times so this recipe focuses on the affordable and easily accessible, with portabellini mushrooms, which you can find at most supermarkets. At a push, even good old button mushrooms would do. My secret to giving my cheap mushroom risotto the kick I’m looking for? Use a good mushroom stock. My runaway favourite right now is the Liquid Stock Concentrate Stick Pack from Woolworths. The very best aged Parmesan you can afford is the other secret. My final trick is to add just a half a tablespoon of brown butter flavoured with sage to my plate. Naturally a good glass of wine is called for. And for me this dish begs for a lovely round Chardonnay.
All you need is…
½ cup very finely chopped shallots (substitute with plain onion if need be)
1 fat clove garlic, minced
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs salted butter
1 cup Arborio rice
two thirds of a cup of Chardonnay (or any other dry white wine)
250g portabellini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
two sticks of mushroom flavour Liquid Stock Concentrate from Woolworths
8 cups boiling water
½ cup grated aged Parmesan
2 Tbs salted butter
8 sage leaves
extra Parmesan, for serving
First, get your stock ready. Add the 8 cups of hot water and mushroom stock to a saucepan and bring it to a low simmer – you’ll be adding your stock gradually and it’s important for it to be hot when you do.
Once that’s going, fry the shallots over low heat in the butter and olive oil until soft – about five minutes. Add the garlic for the last minute of frying. Add the uncooked rice to the same pan and stir-fry for 60 seconds. Then add the wine to the pan and cook for a minute or two. Add the mushrooms next. Now you can start adding stock. It gets only half a cup at a time, and you need to keep on stirring while it cooks. You cannot walk away from a risotto! So pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some music and stir away.
As soon as the stock you added starts to disappear, add the next half a cup. Stir, stir, stir! As the rice cooks, it will release its starch, turning the risotto marvelously creamy. (Eight cups of liquid is my guide for a cup of risotto rice, but you may use a bit less or more, depending on the heat you cook your risotto on.) I don’t like risotto that’s mush. So, as with pasta, I look for a bit of an al dente bite in my rice. Now I taste. Is it ‘mushroomy’ enough? No? Then I simply squeeze in another sachet of that lovely Woolies mushroom liquid stock concentrate. It’s relatively low in sodium, so I get bucket loads of extra flavour without having to worry about over-salting my dish. Next stir in half a cup of Parmesan. Now it’s time to taste and adjust your salt if need be. Also give it a grinding of black pepper.
Your final act of kitchen fabulousness is your brown butter. I prefer calling it by its French name, beurre noisette, because the butter really does acquire a most remarkable nutty character – and it sounds fancier! Simply pop the butter in a small stainless steel pot along with the sage leaves. As the butter cooks, it will start to foam and then brown, releasing the most exquisite nutty aromas. Whip it off the heat at this point, otherwise your brown butter will burn. Plate up your mushroom risotto, spoon over a light drizzle of brown butter and top each serving with four sage leaves. Tuck in!
MY WINE CHOICE WITH THIS:
JOURNEY’S END HAYSTACK CHARDONNAY 2019
Owned by the Gabb family, Journey’s End outside Stellenbosch is a boutique winery that focuses on producing top-quality single vineyard and appellation wines. No more than 25,000 dozen bottles of estate wine are produced in a typical vintage – many of which regularly collect trophies on the international circuit. In fact, thanks to its sea-facing slopes, excellent soils and the exceptional wines emerging from the general area, the Schapenberg terroir has begun to draw comparison with the likes of Bordeaux.
Their Haystack Chardonnay is a brilliant little dinner companion. Clear and bright straw with the slightest tinge of green, it presents the perfect gentle integration of oak and fruit, with neither overly dominant. On the nose you’ll spot citrus peel and melon, plus a subtle savoury biscuit overlay. A limey acidity shines through the fruit flavours, giving this wine a food-friendly freshness. It’s perfect for drinking now, but it will also age well with a few extra years spent in bottle. At time of publication it’s available online at R85. A very decent price for what is a very pleasing Chardonnay.