Having been pretty much raised by my dad, most of what I know about Neopolitan food comes from him. My mom passed away when I was 8 years old, which left my father to raise 3 children on his own. Having lived most of his life being cared for by either his own mother or his wife, he suddenly found himself on the other side of the table. Not knowing much about cooking, he had no choice but to jump in blindly and make sure we were fed. And fed we were!
He was an amazing cook. Truly. I can clearly remember his oh, so delicious stuffed peppers, which to this day I cannot seem to recreate. Perhaps I’m chasing a futile memory. And his lasagne. He would wake up early Sunday morning to make his tomato sauce. Then he would patiently roll tiny little meatballs to fill his lasagne with. Out of this world! I’m not sure how he managed to make such delicious food and I was too young to realize at the time what an undertaking this must have been for him. Fortunately, he was able to retire in his early 40’s to take care of me. I say fortunately, but it did come at a price. Having left Italy after World War II to work in the coal mines of Belgium, he was able to receive a substantial Belgian pension all because of his sick lungs.
One of my favourite dishes that my dad made was his Risotto con funghi Porcini. Porcini mushroom risotto. I’m not sure how he came to make such a delicious Northern Italian dish, but oh man it was good! So much so that I would request that dish as my birthday meal time and time again. It was the last birthday meal he made for me, when I was pregnant with my first, before he passed away. In my mind, I never imagined my dad not being there. I took it for granted that he would always make his risotto for me and therefore I never learned how he made it. Lucky for me though, my hubby did. Hubby would sit at the kitchen table and watch my father make his risotto. He watched and took notes of everything my dad did, timing his every move. And I am ever so thankful. It was hubby who took over with the making of this favourite dish of mine. There were many birthdays that I requested this dish and hubby came through every time. Funny thing is, I never made this dish myself. I can’t explain why. It’s my comfort dish. And I think it was all the more comforting because it was made by my dad, and then my hubby. Last night, I finally came around and decided to have a go at it. And you wouldn’t believe what hubby said. “Wow! It’s better than the one I make. Your dad would be really proud!”.
My Dad’s Risotto con Porcini
4 or 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
2 or 3 shallots, minced
Dry porcini mushrooms, a small handful
2 cups of Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
½ cup or so of white wine
6 to 7 cups of chicken stock, warm
1 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, maybe a little more
Salt & pepper to taste
A few notes on the ingredients. You can use frozen porcini if they’re available, although I found them to be nowhere as flavourful as the dried porcini. If you’re lucky enough to have fresh porcini where you live, by all means use them.
I mentioned 6 to 7 cups of warm chicken stock. Because I use the soaking water of the porcini mushrooms, which I encourage you to do seeing as all the mushroom flavour is in there, I really only needed about 6 cups of stock. My theory when it comes to cooking with wine: use one good enough that you would drink. Trust me when I say there’s nothing better than having a glass of wine while making this risotto as you pretty much need to hover over it and constantly be stirring. It’s really not that bad if you’re sipping a good wine! My dad made his own wine and therefore used his, which was a heavy-bodied wine. I use whatever white wine I have on-hand, which this time around happened to be a BC Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley, Mission Hill.
Begin by soaking the dry porcini mushrooms in a small bowl with about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of warm water. Let soak for about 15 minutes and then chop the mushrooms, reserving the mushroom water.
In a medium-sized pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and shallots. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, and then add the rice, stirring, ensuring that it gets coated with oil.
After about 3 minutes, add the white wine and stir. Wait until it has been absorbed by the rice, and then add the mushroom water. Once that has been absorbed, begin to add the warm chicken stock, ½ cup at a time. My ladle holds about ½ of liquid so it worked out perfectly. As you add your ½ cup of stock, you do need to keep stirring. I mean you need to constantly keep stirring, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to add ½ cup of stock at a time, stirring constantly, until the rice mixture is creamy and al dente. This will happen after about 6 cups of stock, but do check it after 5 ½ cups.
Once it’s done, al dente, remove from heat and stir in the parmesan. Check for salt and season with pepper. Serve immediately, sprinkled with freshly grated parmigiano over the top. Oh, so cheesy-creamy yummy! Mmmm!