I need risotto tonight. I just do. As a flank steak instantly reminds me of Paris, risotto takes me straight back to Bologna and southern France.
When I stayed with the daughter and her dancemates in Florence last summer, it was a pleasure to cook for them. Those lovely, lithe dancers had the appetites of sled dogs. I’m not remotely exaggerating. The last night before their big performance, I made a wildly nutritious pasta for them. There was probably enough to feed a dozen normal people. The 6 of them polished it off neatly, and in the end were eating it right out of the serving bowl.
One of the ingredients was some dried porcini mushrooms. Fast-forward to the day the daughter and I left Florence (we were the last), we took with us the fantastic Camargue sea salt we’d bought, as well as the remaining mushrooms. We set off to Bologna by train. The first night there, I had a dream about trying to find those mushrooms so we could make a risotto. I looked all through my bags, and realized that a pair of shoes was also missing. In reality, they were seriously missing because I’d not brought them along. Meanwhile back in the dream, I found the missing shoes (in an armoire of all places – when have I ever put shoes in a closet!), and tucked in the toe of one of them was the package of mushrooms.
I was so happy that we could make our risotto, and asked my daughter what we should call it. She thought for a few seconds, then grinned and said, “We should call it Lost Shoes Risotto!” The next morning I described it to her, and suggested we actually make it, and keep the name. When we got to Aix en Provence, where we’d rented an apartment with a kitchenette, a few days later, we found some Italian arborio rice at the greenmarket, and made it exactly as I had dreamt it.
The instructions below are straight out of the dream and our little kitchen, with modifications for those of you who possess things like strainers and ladles. And an extra pot or two.
Serves 2 as an entrée, 4 as a side
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 4 cups boiling water
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 ounces butter
- 2 ounces olive oil
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 4 ounces white wine
- All the mushroom stock
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 bunch green onions, trimmed and diced
- 2 ounces butter
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (we used a heavenly little round of goat cheese from the greenmarket, so feel free to sub a couple of ounces)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Minced chives for garnish
- Bring some water to a boil to soak the mushrooms. You’ll need at least 4 cups. In my dream, I hadn’t wanted to buy stock, so I decided to make an impromptu mushroom stock. Our little kitchenette (very -ette) was nicely equipped with basic equipment, but it clearly was not anticipated that anyone would be doing something so sophisticated as measuring. So I filled a coffee cup four times with boiling water, plus an extra splash. I put the mushrooms in our one large bowl, poured in the boiling water, and set one of our two dinner plates on top. We poured some wine and sat down to read in front of the lovely huge window that let in a cooling evening breeze. After about a half hour, the water was looking richly brown, so we started prepping the onions and garlic. Start to finish, the mushrooms probably soaked for a good 45 minutes.
- I set the bowl of mushrooms and their stock (no strainer) in the microwave to heat up again . Feel free, however, to pour the stock through a strainer to separate the mushrooms. Strain the stock into a saucepan and set it over low heat. We melted some butter and added some olive oil and when they were hot, added the garlic. Instantly, our little place was starting to smell seriously good. I added the rice and stirred it around to toast for a few minutes. Then I added the wine and stirred slowly until most of it was absorbed/evaporated, then moved on to the stock. While I added it a coffee cupful at a time (if you have a ladle, by all means use it), dodging mushrooms and stirring exquisitely slowly all the while, my daughter made us a beautiful salad and tossed it simply with olive oil and sea salt. As the risotto began to look creamier and creamier, she sliced some bread and filled the wine glasses.
- When all the stock was in the pot, and the risotto perfectly al dente, I swirled in the lemon zest and juice, the green onions (their flavor wants to be bright, and they’ll lend a bit of a good crunch) a knob of butter, the cheese, and last, the mushrooms and the bit of remaining stock. I seasoned it up with salt and pepper, and divided it among our two plates. Finally, I snipped some fresh chives over the top. We sat down together and raised a toast to the power of dreams.