Let’s get a couple of misconceptions about risotto out of the way: First, I hope you’ve heard by now that the whole standing-and-stirring-forever myth is just that. Good risotto doesn’t require such constant attention. Second, I realize this is heretical to purists (don’t @ me), but you also don’t have to use dairy butter and/or Parmigiano-Reggiano to enrich it. When I served this version to tasters recently, not a single one picked up on the fact that I had employed vegan butter and vegan Parm; they were too busy verbalizing, in between bites, how delicious it was.
The dish’s intoxicating creaminess, after all, comes mostly from the rice itself, and here’s where substitutions won’t do. You have to use a short-grain, starchy variety such as Arborio (or the harder-to-find Carnaroli or Vialone Nano) because the alchemy happens when the rice gradually absorbs the broth and simultaneously releases its starch.
The broth, too, is crucial. Use something homemade, if possible, and infuse it with a powerful ingredient: dried porcini mushrooms. When they soak in hot broth for just a few minutes, they release much of their flavor, and the liquid — which you add gradually — carries it right into the grains of rice. After the mushrooms rehydrate, you drain them, chop them and add them to the risotto base, too, along with the requisite aromatics. This one gets topped with sauteed cremini mushrooms to double up on that earthiness.
I need to mention a few more requirements for perfect risotto. Keep the broth hot as you’re stirring it in. Stop cooking while the rice is still a little al dente, not mushy. And make sure that your risotto isn’t too stiff, which is especially crucial if it will sit for more than a minute or two before serving because it tends to tighten up. If need be, practice ladling some into a shallow bowl; it should spread all the way flat, and if it doesn’t, scrape it back into the pot, stir in a little more broth to loosen it, and try again. You’ll be glad you did.
1 ounce (about 1 cup) dried porcini mushrooms
4 to 4 1/2 cups store-bought or homemade vegetable broth
2 tablespoons vegan butter
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Leaves from 2 stems thyme, chopped, plus more for optional garnish
1 tablespoon chopped sage leaves, plus more for optional garnish
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup vegan Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine the dried porcini mushrooms and broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cook until hot. Turn off the heat, and let them soak, to rehydrate, for at least 5 minutes. Use a fine-mesh strainer to scoop out the mushrooms, press on them to extract as much liquid as possible, and transfer them to a cutting board. Coarsely chop them.
Line the strainer with paper towels, and place over a large bowl or large liquid measuring cup. Strain the broth into the bowl, rinse out the saucepan, and pour the broth back into the saucepan. Cover and keep it warm over low heat.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the vegan butter in a deep saute pan over high heat. Stir in the sliced cremini mushrooms and cook until soft and lightly browned, 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, then transfer the mushrooms to a bowl.
Return the saute pan to medium heat. Pour in the oil, and when it shimmers, stir in the onion, garlic, thyme and sage; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, for 8 minutes. Add the rice, stirring for about a minute so all the grains are evenly coated. Pour in the wine; cook until it has mostly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chopped porcinis.
Add 1 cup of the warm broth to the rice mixture, and stir it in. Cook until the broth is mostly absorbed, then stir in another cup and repeat. Continue cooking and stirring in broth, 1 cup at a time, until the rice is al dente and the liquid is mostly absorbed; this should take about 20 minutes total, and you’ll use about 4 cups of the broth. Stir in the vegan Parmesan, the remaining tablespoon of vegan butter, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and all the pepper. Taste, and add more salt as needed.
Stir in up to another 1/2 cup of broth to loosen the risotto, as needed. (You want it to be just soupy enough that when you ladle it into shallow bowls, it spreads flat.) Divide among individual bowls, top with the cremini mushrooms, garnish with more thyme and/or sage, if desired, and serve.
Adapted from “Great Vegan Meals for the Carnivorous Family: 75 Delicious Dishes for Herbivores, Carnivores and Everyone in Between,” by Amanda Logan (Page Street Publishing, 2018).
Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Calories: 400; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 380 mg; Carbohydrates: 61 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 8 g; Protein: 13 g.