This evening I made a pancetta and wild mushroom risotto. Risotto used to be one of those dishes that I would always order when having a meal out because I was convinced that cooking it at home would never do it justice and that the effort it takes would render any deliciousness futile.
However, when I did finally tackle risottos at home, it became an instant addition to my midweek repertoire. I love how adaptable it is. Some of my favourite flavour combinations include chorizo and borlotti bean, pea and prawn, and smoked haddock with lemon. I use a variety of stocks in these three combos, including fish, vegetable and chicken, usually with a generous splash of white wine. Tonight was all about pancetta and wild mushrooms, specifically porcini mushrooms. It’s a classic match made in heaven.
Many dried foods get a bad reputation. It’s not glamorous soaking the porcini mushrooms while you get to slicing onions and chopping chestnut mushrooms, but there’s something dedicated and patient about devoting a bit of extra time to such a great ingredient. Porcinis are so rich, pungent, earthy and almost nutty. Not only are they delectable on their own, but the deep chocolate coloured soaking water adds a very natural colour to the final risotto. Although they can be an expensive addition to a dish, you can afford to use them sparingly because of their strength, and particularly if you use the soaking water. A small handful is enough, with chestnut mushrooms and oyster mushrooms to give this a thoroughly savoury edge.
The two elements I add right at the end of cooking are the pancetta, and a small handful of grated parmigiano reggiano. I slowly dry fry pancetta cubes separately from my risotto pan so that any fat melts guiltily for stirring into the finished dish when it’s been removed from the heat. Then, the finishing touch, parmigiano reggiano left to melt into the risotto.
I’ve been known to add a couple of twists to this dish before. Sometimes a swirl of red pesto, particularly one with a kick, can add a pleasing sweet undertone, and chunks of goats cheese can bring a creaminess that suits a winter’s night in.
I suppose in its way this is quite an indulgent dish. Only a small helping is needed.
Pancetta and Wild Mushroom Risotto
A handful each of sliced chestnut and oyster mushrooms
A handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for at least 30 minutes in 300ml boiling water (keep the soaking water for the risotto)
50g pancetta cubes
200g arborio rice
25g salted butter
2 small red onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed or diced
Seasoning and herbs, including basil and sage
700ml chicken stock
Splash of white wine
30g parmigiano reggiano
Melt the butter in a large, flat saucepan, preferably with a heavy bottom. Allow this to get hot and slightly bubbling, and add the garlic and onions. Keep on a medium heat and allow the onions to become soft and translucent.
Add the arborio rice into the butter and onions and stir until the rice becomes translucent and looks shiny.
Start to add your stock. I usually add liquid to the risotto about 6 or 7 times, so that equates to about 150ml per ladle. Stir the risotto so that the liquid is equally distributed amongst the rice, and stir gently to keep the rice moving.
Continue adding the stock and porcini mushroom soaking liquid and stirring gently. After about half the liquid has been absorbed, add all your mushrooms and continue to add the remaining liquid and white wine until all the liquid is absorbed. During this time, season your risotto and add herbs. I love using basil and sage.
While you’re doing this (it’s a multi-tasking job this one), gently warm a separate small frying pan. Allow this to come to a good heat, and add the pancetta cubes. They should sizzle slightly on hitting the pan. Keep the cubes moving to cook evenly over a low-medium heat and allow the juices to collect in the pan.
As soon as all of the liquid is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat. Add the pancetta cubes and scrape the pan clean of all its meaty juices and any crispy bits. Stir this into the risotto.
Scatter over the parmigiano reggiano. While you’re fussing over plates and cutlery, this will gently melt into the risotto.
Serve! I can’t help but add a pinch of freshly ground pepper.