When I was in San Sebastián last week with Annie, we had a wonderful porcini mushroom and chestnut risotto in Bar Simirimi on our last evening, having seen it being prepared the night before from our kitchen-side seats.
We both said it was something we’d have to make at home and tonight that was just what I did. I bought some tasty chestnut mushrooms. I thought I had some dried porcini ones too – fresh ones are hard to buy here – but discovered I didn’t. But I had a pack of ready prepared chestnuts. Where chestnuts are concerned, I don’t feel in the least bit guilty about not starting from scratch!
I remember Annie and I discussed how it was strange that we didn’t see paella offered (although that is from southern Spain rather than northern) but there seemed to be a number of risottos on menus in the pinxto bars of San Sebastián, and I normally think of risottos as Italian.
I wanted to get a good deep flavour and so begged some homemade stock off my son Jonathan this afternoon from his freezer. I’d run out of my own. Risottos are fairly last minute and so I began cooking about half an hour before I wanted to eat. The stock had almost defrosted over the afternoon and I put it on the heat to come to the boil. You need to add hot stock, slowly, to a risotto. I thickly sliced a good handful of mushrooms (do use chestnut ones as I did or others that are very flavourful) and also sliced a few of the chestnuts.
I put the mushrooms into a frying pan with some olive oil and a lump of butter. I rarely cook with butter but I really love some with my mushrooms. Once the mushrooms were starting to soften, I added the sliced chestnuts, turning it all over carefully and mixing together. Once they were cooked through, I added a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley, because parsley is another thing I love with mushrooms.
Meanwhile, I had got the risotto base going. I soften a sliced shallot in some olive oil, then I added half a cup of risotto rice (enough for one serving). I mixed well so that each grain of rice was coated in the hot oil, then I added a good glug of dry vermouth (or use white wine if you have some open). I let that bubble and then started adding the hot stock, ladleful by ladleful, stirring all the while. This is an essential step for breaking down the starch of the rice so you get that wonderful creamy effect that is a keynote of a good risotto. Some people say it’s all a lot of faff and hard work but I think it’s wonderful to cook like this: you have to slow down to cook a risotto properly and so it becomes very relaxing.
Check the seasoning. How much salt you’ll need will depend on how much is in your stock. Add more stock as each ladleful is absorbed. If you run out of stock, use hot water. Once the rice is almost tender, add the mushrooms, chestnuts and parsley. I like to add the vegetables to this kind of risotto a little before the end so the flavours have time to combine.
As soon as the rice is cooked – al dente, so with just a little bite left – turn the heat off and add a knob of butter and a good grating of Parmesan cheese. Put a lid on and leave for a couple of minutes and then mix the melted butter and cheese into the risotto.
Now serve with just a little olive oil drizzled over the top. I also kept back a little bit of mushroom and chestnut to put on the top.
I served it with a green salad. It was a lovely risotto. Of course eating chestnuts in May is rather out of season, but sometimes a vacuum pack comes in handy at the ‘wrong’ time of year! It seemed like such a treat. I don’t really use chestnuts much, other than around Christmas time, and their sweet softness and gorgeous taste goes so well with the mushrooms; the stock lent a lovely deep flavour to the risotto, and all round it was a great midweek supper. And one I’m sure to do again. Meanwhile, I didn’t waste the rest of the chestnuts and extra chicken stock (Jonathan had given me a large pack), and used them to make some chestnut soup.