This may be a controversial opinion, but I don’t believe that wine is truly necessary to produce a good risotto, at least not chemically speaking. I have large faith in Marcella Hazan, whose basic risotto recipe does not call for wine. Scientifically, the purpose of the wine is unclear to me. Some say it adds a light fruity flavour to the risotto, but I doubt that this would be perceptible with stronger flavours like mushrooms. Others claim that the wine helps to make each rice kernel more tender because of it’s acidity — this could easily be done with another acid, where it truly the case.
However, I do believe wine is a mandatory component in risotto, not because of the flavour or because it tenderizes the rice, but because of the side effect caused by opening a bottle of wine. Every nerve in my body seems to relax in a Pavlovian response to the beginnings of risotto, knowing that a glass of wine is in my future.
I have never tried leaving the wine out of a risotto, but for this recipe I tried using red instead of white. It was a nice change and an interesting experiment. Though the risotto was full of earthy deep mushroom flavour my palette is evidently not refined enough to taste the difference in wine. However, it certainly did lend a purple hue to the otherwise lightly coloured dish. Next time I will try a more robust and distinct red wine. Have you ever tried using red wine, or no wine in risotto?
[print_this]Risotto with Mushrooms and Red Wine
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups mixed fresh mushrooms, sliced. (I used shitake and cremini)
2 teaspoons dried thyme (substitute 1 tablespoon fresh if you have it)
salt and pepper
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup red wine
~ 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, warm
1/4 cup Parmagianno Reggiano, grated
First you want to brown the mushrooms. You can use the same pot to cook the risotto if you want but you will need the mushrooms to all fit in one layer so they can brown. They won’t brown if they are crowded. Heat a heavy wide pot to medium and add butter. When it stops foaming add mushrooms (or half of the mushrooms if you are doing it in batches) and stir. Add a pinch of salt and pepper as well as the thyme and saute until the mushrooms start to brown. Remove from heat and repeat with the second batch.
When all the mushrooms are nice and brown remove to a bowl and get out your risotto pot. You want a heavy pot, I usually use a dutch oven. Add olive oil and put on medium low heat. Add shallots and cook for 3 minutes, stirring regularly. You want it to sweat not brown so if the heat is too high reduce it a bit. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes then add wine. Continue to stir the rice regularly until the wine is mostly evaporated. Start adding your warm stock about 1/2 cup at a time. Add the mushrooms and stir them into the rice. Stir the rice regularly to help it cook evenly. Continue adding stock as it evaporates.
You want to slow down the addition of liquid when the rice starts to soften, so test it often. When it is just al dente remove from heat and stir in cheese. Test it for seasoning and adjust if necessary.[/print_this]