Mushroom Risotto with Salsa Verde

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There are stacks of books on my nightstand. Books for reference, books I’m halfway through, and books that I want to read next. Our dining room table is used less for, you know, dining, and more as a makeshift desk. It’s piled at this moment with fifteen books (actual truth. Not an exaggeration). That’s not counting the heaps of books in the living room, some in front of bookshelves where there’s no space left, some set apart so I remember they belong to a friend.

The internet is marvelous but books are magical. I know I’ve met a kindred soul when we both enthuse over the scent of books. Ink and paper and age make an enchanting perfume, one that I would bottle and spray on myself if I could. The best thing about books is what’s contained inside of them. There are lives not my own that I can dip into. There are daring stories. There are Opinions and Facts and Personalities that I get to linger with. And there’s knowledge.

Because of this marvel I can never stick to only one book at a time. There are too many things to read and learn. Some days I want to read novels, others memoirs, others poetry. And always cookbooks. One fascinating thing about choosing what to read is that when you’re reading multiple things they bleed into each other. There are connections to be found that would otherwise be undiscovered.

I recently found a deeply discounted copy of Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food at my local bookshop, and found I could not ignore its call to take it home. If you ever have the opportunity to read Waters’ work I would recommend that you take it. She speaks with efficiency about the dignity and grace of simple cooking. And I love anyone, especially as esteemed a chef and restauranteur as she is, who confesses that she’s a luddite in the kitchen, preferring a sharp knife and a mortar and pestle to anything with a plug.

At the same time I’ve been steadily working through Near and Far by Heidi Swanson, a book I’ve cooked from here before. Swanson is just as gracious as Waters, and with the same emphasis on good ingredients and good eating, but where Waters is classic Swanson is contemporary. She tops a dish of soba noodles and radishes with paprika, suggests substituting yuba skins

in for pasta, and adds nori to her granola. When I came across her recipe for grilled porcinis I remembered the chapter on rice I had just read in Waters’ book, and the quart of mushroom stock languishing in the freezer. Thus this risotto was born.

Risotto has a recipe for being finicky. It’s considered date night food, not something you’d make on a weeknight. Risotto does require attention, and it will make a killer date night. But risotto can also come together in half an hour without difficultly. While making this risotto I also purged my refrigerator of old food. That’s not something you can say about a fearsome beast of a dish.

Risotto is, at its core, comfort food. It’s creamy and tender and a perfect vehicle for toppings. Risotto will happily take leftovers and turn them into something divine. However, I will argue that these mushrooms in salsa verde are a perfect pairing for risotto. They’re concentrated in flavor from grilling and topped with a tangy, herbaceous dressing. The portobellos I used in lie of porcinis echo the taste of the mushroom stock, rich and savory without becoming heavy. It tastes of early spring- both the fresh bite and the richness not yet faded from winter, and the plate looks like spring- the brown of the earth with the greens and the purples that are always the first to arrive.

Happy Friday. Happy Spring. And to those who celebrate, Happy Easter and Happy Passover.

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Mushroom Risotto with Salsa Verde

If you don’t have mushroom stock then you can easily substitute whatever sort of broth you have on hand. Risotto is adaptable in this way. If you have a little less than 5 cups of stock, feel free to lengthen it with hot water. I have not tried this trick myself, but Waters swears that if you have no white wine (and no red wine or beer to stand in for it) then adding a tablespoon or two of white wine vinegar in with the first addition of stock gives the risotto the acidity it needs.

serves 4

adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters and Near and Far by Heidi Swanson

For the risotto

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
5 cups mushroom stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
1/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese

For the mushrooms

2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 tablespoons thyme
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing mushrooms
salt and pepper

To make the risotto, melt two tablespoons of butter in a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and stir. Let the onion cook until it’s become soft and translucent but hasn’t taken on any color. Add the rice and stir well. Cook until the rice is becoming clear and is coated with the butter, but is not taking on any color.

While softening the onion and toasting the rice bring the stock to a boil in another pot. Once the stock is boiling turn off the heat. It will stay warm enough without any heat underneath it.

Once the rice is turning translucent add the wine. Stir well and let the wine simmer away. It should not take long for the wine to be absorbed. Once the wine has all cooked off add one cup of the stock, reduce the heat to low, and stir well.

Watch the risotto and stir often but not constantly. When almost all the stock has been absorbed add another 1/2 cup of stock and stir. Continue this way, watching the risotto and adding the stock as necessary. Your additions of stock should slow as the risotto cooks. Start tasting the risotto about 12 minutes into cooking the rice. The rice should be perfectly tender but not mushy. In my kitchen this took about 25 minutes. Once the rice is fully cooked add just enough broth to make it creamy but not soupy. You may not need all the stock. If for whatever reason you find you need more, feel free to stretch your stock with hot water. Stir in the final tablespoon of butter and the Pecorino cheese and season as necessary with salt and pepper.

While the risotto is cooking, make the salsa verde and mushrooms. Place the shallots in a small bowl and cover with the white wine vinegar. Let the shallots hang out in the vinegar while preparing the mushrooms.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat, and brush the mushrooms on both sides with olive oil. Once the grill pan is hot place the mushrooms on the pan to sear and cook on each side for about 3 minutes, or until the mushrooms start to shrink just a bit and have definite grill marks. Place to the side.

In a small bowl, combine the shallots, vinegar, thyme, parsley, and olive oil. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Toss the mushrooms in the salsa verde.

To serve, create a bed of the risotto on a plate and top with the mushrooms and salsa verde. Serve hot.

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Mushroom, Shallot and Sage Frittata

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I’ve long loved the idea of frittatas, but have never loved an actual frittata. It seems so easy- combine eggs and vegetables, then sauté and broil! But whenever I’ve tried to make frittatas they end up dry and loveless. I eat them, because I don’t like to waste food, but I spend most of the time wishing I had made quiche instead.

That is until yesterday , when I found myself rereading An Everlasting Meal by the brilliant Tamar Adler. Adler gave sparse and urgent directions for making frittata, specifically for using up leftover. About frittatas made from leftover pasta, Adler writes,

“Other than the perfect solitary sybaritic breakfast of pasta eaten directly out of a cold bowl, in bewilderment and utter presence, this is the best use, I believe, of leftover pasta. Glory be.”

I had no leftover pasta to fill my frittata. Pasta tends to fall into the “if it’s on my plate I will eat it” category for me, so there’s unlikely to be leftover pasta frittatas in my future. If there is I will absolutely turn it into a frittata. But for now I wanted a frittata filled with mushrooms and shallots and sage, tasting of a fall walk and brilliant sunsets early in the day.

Because I’ve always had bad luck with my frittatas I did some research. (I consulted here and here in addition to Adler.) It took a bit of reading, a bit of cobbling, and thirty minutes for a gorgeous golden frittata has emerged from the oven.

The two tricks that I’ve never used before and now will never foresake are to add a bit of heavy cream, and to let the eggs just start to form an edge with the pan before transferring the frittata to the oven. Before I was trying to cook the eggs through on the stovetop, and then would broil the top. This ended up with an inferior product, dry and rubbery. There’s no dry spots here. Instead it’s soft and luscious, a happy melding of egg and vegetable and cream.

I chose crimini mushrooms, shallots, and sage for my filling because I couldn’t think of a better counterpart to a fall day than earthy mushrooms, woodsy sage, and sweet shallots. If you don’t have the urge to recreate feeling through food as I do, one of the beauties of frittatas is that they are not so much a recipe as a technique. There may be fillings for frittatas that aren’t delicious, but I cannot think of any.

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Mushroom, Shallot and Sage Frittata

Serves 2-4

I used an 8 inch cast iron skillet for this, and it turned out perfect. If you have another oven safe skillet of the same size it work just fine, but you may need more butter.

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, divided
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, stems removed, cleaned, and thinly sliced
2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
6 large eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Warm a large skillet over medium-low heat. Melt the two tablespoons of butter in the large skillet. Once the butter is melted, add the mushrooms and shallots. Stir well so that it’s all coated in the melted butter, then add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and the ground nutmeg. Let it cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are softened and the shallots have all separated into long, loose strings, about 6 minutes. Add the sage and cook for another minute, until the whole mess smells woodsy and fragrant. Remove the mushrooms from the heat, and spread around the pan to let it cool quickly.

While the mushrooms are cooling whisk together in a large bowl the eggs, the heavy cream, and the remainder of the salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms are cool enough to touch set an 8-inch cast iron skillet over low heat and allow it to warm. If your mushrooms are taking longer to cool than you’d like stir them often and spread them as thinly as possible. It should only take about 5 minutes for the mushrooms to cool.

Melt the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter in your cast iron skillet. Add the mushrooms to the eggs, and stir well. Pour the mushroom-egg mixture into the preheated cast iron skillet. Allow the eggs to sit in the skillet just until edges where the egg and skillet meet start to develop. This should only take two or so minutes. Once that happens, kill the heat and place the skillet into the preheated oven.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Bake your frittata until the center is just set and doesn’t jiggle if you shake it. If your frittata is not there at 15 minutes, check every 5 minutes until it is ready. Remove from the oven, and allow it to cool in the skillet for 5 minutes.

Place a plate over the skillet and invert the skillet so the frittata removes cleanly. If it sticks to the side, use an offset spatula or a butter knife to run around the rim.

Serve in fat wedges at room temperature.

 

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Lentil Bolognese

 

“You eat too healthy,” my chef says. “If you never eat junk food you’ll ruin your immune system and get cancer.”

I try to eat healthy at home. I throw kale into everything and stock cases full of canned beans. My fridge is full of root vegetables, fermented condiments, and organic dairy products. And while I’d never go so far as to ban white flour, sugar, and pasta in my kitchen, there’s a quota.

“I’ll be fine,” I say. We’re drinking beer after our shift, engaging in the mockery that builds a kitchen. “I eat here, after all.”

I have to eat healthy at home, because our work meals are not healthy. Mayo fried rice. Philly cheese steak poutine. Mac and cheese that’s one part cream cheese to two parts velveeta. They’re quick, efficient meals that are meant to replenish the calories burned from eight hours on your feet. I’ve devoured them all.

It often feels that I’m inhabiting two worlds, especially in regards to food. It’s a strength, certainly. I can look at dishes from multiple perspectives. I know how good vegetarian food can be- a fragrant curry, a comforting pot pie, a really good pot of beans. I also know how good an oozing, melty burger can be. Because of this I’m less inclined to be impressed by a dish solely because it’s vegetarian, or because there’s bacon in it. There’s more tricks in my wheelhouse because of this duo identity, and I can apply them in all the places I cook. And I love picking dishes apart and figuring out how they work and then rejiggering them at home.

Like this lentil bolognese. This bolognese is everything that’s right with vegetarian food. That’s a big claim, I understand. But it’s true. It’s earthy and rich and savory, thanks to the long cooking time and the savory ingredients used. It’s hearty enough for a meal at home, and would take a stunning turn at a dinner party. It’s filling, but doesn’t leave you with that burst gut feeling that can happen after a plate of meat sauce. It’s pretty hands off, so you can start it and leave it be. There’s no funky ingredients to hunt down across town and pay twenty dollars for. And it’s fantastic. Aaron put it at mac and cheese level for how good it is. To put that into perspective, there’s nothing that ranks higher than mac and cheese for Aaron.

This is a dish I would feel confident enough to serve to my health-conscious vegetarian friends and burger eating, dorito loving coworkers. It’s that good.

Lentil Bolognese

Serves 4-6

There are two tricks to this sauce. The first is to make sure that all the vegetables are cut quite small- around the size of a lentil. That allows more surface area for flavor to develop, and makes sure the vegetables are integrated in the sauce. The second is to make sure it cooks low and slow, to get tender lentils and a deeply flavored sauce. I used crimini mushrooms because they were cheap at my local grocery store. Button mushrooms would work as well, I would just cook them a little longer.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 medium celery stalk, finely diced
salt
pepper
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, finely diced (you can use the stems as well)
1 cup earthy red wine (I used an Argentinian malbec)
3 cups water
1 twenty-eight ounce can whole tomatoes, juices retained and tomatoes crushed
1 cup beluga lentils
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
1 pound fettuccini, for serving
Pecorino romano, for serving

In a medium saucepan, warm together the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, toss in the oil and butter, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and the onions translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add in the mushrooms and season again with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are soft and have started to give off some juice. Add in the red wine and stir well to bring any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. These are very flavorful, so get all you can. Add in the water, tomatoes and juice, lentil, bay leaf, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer away, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are almost tender and the water is mostly cooked away. This will take at least an hour, possibly two.

Once the water is cooked away add the milk and stir well. Let the milk reduce in the sauce until it is almost gone. Taste to make sure the lentils are tender, and that the seasoning is correct. If the lentils are not at the desired state of tenderness, add more water, a little at a time, and cook out. If the seasoning is not correct, adjust the salt, pepper, or nutmeg to desired state. Remove the bay leaf.

Cook the fettuccini according to package directions.

To serve, top the fettuccini with the lentil sauce. Sprinkle with grated pecornio romano.

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