Risotto ai funghi morel con scaglie di parmigiano
Ask any mushroom lover what their favourite season is and they’ll tell you autumn. Autumn brings with it all the tastes of earthy and umami rich mushrooms. From Porcini mushrooms all the way to the extremely sought after white truffles of Alba. These truffles, also known as trifola d’Alba Madonna, are sometimes called white gold due to the price that acompanies them. This post however, is not about Chanterelles or Puff Balls, it’s about Morels. The sight of of a morel’s pine cone shaped head poking out of the forest detritus can bring joy even to the most seasoned mushroom foragers and it is a sure sign that spring has come.
Morel mushrooms are not only unique in the fact that they are in season during spring, they also possess a unique shape and taste. Like any other mushrooms, morel mushrooms are prone to rotting and have a short lifespan. Because of this, morel mushrooms are sometimes dried or preserved in oil. Some chefs even prize dried morels even more than fresh ones as they claim that dried morels have a more concentrated flavour. In a way I actually agree with them, dried mushrooms in general have so many more uses. For example, they can be reconstituted into mushroom stock or added to soup as an umami booster and even after that, you still can eat the mushroom itself!
Morels have a very uniquely earthy and soy sauce-like taste, with the best examples being so concentrated that its as if they have chocolate undernotes acompanied by the scent of a damp forest floor. Putting your nose into a basket of dried morels makes you feel as though you’re back in the forest. Fresh morels also have a firm sponge-like texture, with their unique pine cone shape and lattice structure. Outside of the wild, they are impossible to cultivate, making their supply limited geographically to where they grow naturally. All these traits combine to give them an eye-watering price, with the largest and most prized morels costing as much as black truffles.
If you aren’t able to go mushroom hunting, fresh morels are occasionally sold in high- end farmer’s markets, though at a very high price. Dried morels are also available from stores online, but are so expensive that they’re almost not worth buying. Because of this, if given the chance to buy dried morels at a reasonable price, I highly recommend stocking up on them. Because of their irregular shape, morel mushrooms are very hard to clean. Luckily enough, morel mushrooms in general do not require much cleaning. Ocassionally though, it is possible to to see a white substance filling a pore of the morel mushroom, indicating that a worm is probably residing underneath. Fresh morel mushrooms should be firm and dry to the touch. If you find someone trying to sell you morels which are soft and damp at a cheaper price, walk away. If you’re going to pay so much for morels, you shouldn’t lower your standard and end up being disappointed in their taste due to the condition which the mushrooms are in.
When cleaning fresh morels, never ever soak or wash them in water. Most of the compounds which give morels their unique taste are water soluble, which explains why reconstituting dried morels make such fantastic stock. This however, has its downside. Due to their hydrophilic nature, even briefly soaking the mushrooms in water causes them to lose their flavour. They also easily absorb water, making them hard to sauté after washing as they release the water they absorbed when heated.
Morel Mushroom and Parmesan Risotto
- Dried Morel Mushrooms (to make Vegetable Stock)
- Grated Parmasan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
- Vegetable Stock
- Risotto Rice (Carnoli or Arborio Rice, I use Arborio in this recipe)
- Unsalted Butter + Olive Oil
- White wine
- Fresh Parsley
- Fresh Morel Mushrooms (Optional)
- First, to make the morel stock, reconstitute the dried morel Mushrooms in hot vegetable stock for around 5 minutes, until the vegetable stock is fragrant and dark brown in colour.
- Reserve the rehydrated mushrooms to add into the risotto later.
- Mince the shallots as finely and evenly as possible, as evenly cut pieces will cook uniformly, preventing bits of the shallots browning faster than others.
- To start the risotto, melt the butter in some olive oil and before sweating the shallots.
- Once fragrant, add in the Arborio Rice and toss in the oil for around a minute until well coated.
- Pour in a dash of white wine to deglaze the pan before adding in ladle by ladle of morel stock, stirring in the vegetable stock one ladle at a time, before allowing it to cook the rice. The point of stirring the stock constantly is to allow the friction between the rice grains to release their starch, causing the risotto to take on its classic creamy character.
- The risotto is done when the rice grains are translucent and you can see a white centre inside each individual rice grain. This means the rice is al dente, and still has a bite to it.
- Just before the risotto is done, pour in the fresh morel mushrooms and finely chopped parsley, before adding in the parmesan cheese in 3 separate stages and mixing till melted.
As the trait of a good quality risotto is one that is creamy but still with a bite to it, the rice we use needs to have a high starch content like Arborio and Carnoli rice, which are the two classic risotto rices. If you really are unable to find these types of rices, sushi rice is also a possible substitution. Carnoli rice is the more traditionally used rice for risotto, and it originates from the village of Carnoli in the Po Valley. It is generally thought to be the best rice for risotto, and thus usually has a higher price than Arborio rice. This being said, the taste and texture of Arborio rice is comparable to it. When learning how to make a good risotto, I feel that the technique used to cook the risotto to perfection, not undercooked or overcooked, is more important than the type of rice you buy. Therefore I recommend learning the basics of making a risotto before investing in expensive risotto rice.
Some people might feel that just adding the fresh morel mushrooms directly to the risotto to cook wasteful of such a fine ingredient, and I myself personally prefer cutting the morels length wise, before frying with some butter, shallots and parsley, before pouring over the risotto at the end. I also like to add my parsley midway through the cooking process, as I find adding the parsley at the end slightly overpowering. The white wine in this dish serves to add acidity to the risotto, which helps balance out the thick creamy texture from the rice and cheese. If using homemade vegetable stock/morel stock for this recipe that you did not preseason, the amount of cheese that you add to this recipe is very important as that will act as the main source of salt in this dish. If the dish becomes too cheesy before it tastes salty enough, you can always add a pinch of salt to the dish.
Other ways of making risotto creamy includes adding cream/milk to the risotto. Other than being considered sacrilegious by many chefs, there is also the risk of adding too much cream to the risotto, which raises the fat content so high that the risotto starts to stick, ruining its delicate texture. A well made risotto itself must be served hot, if the risotto cools before serving, the starch in the sauce will start to gel, creating a coat on top of the risotto.