Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy

It's somewhat embarrassing to tell you that my culinary experiences began in my college years.  Yes, I've been cooking on my own since I was about 10, but my repertoire was limited to chicken dinners and casseroles, brownies and cookies, and the odd family favorites like cheese grits.  This all changed when I began college in New York City.  I can tell you all about the different foods and restaurants I was introduced to, from Korean to Indian to the best Chinese food I have EVER eaten, but I'll save that for another time.

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy

My fondest food memories actually began right in my dorm suite's kitchen.  During my freshman year of college I met my female soul mate, Katie, living two doors down from me.  After a few conversations over breakfast, where I watched her pour syrup onto her bowl of grits (gasp!), I soon realized I'd found the one person who totally got me.  From our love of books to what is now called old-school rap and hip hop (it wasn't called "old-school" back then), we bonded over our common interests and our very short statures.  And, besides books, we both discovered our love for cooking, often combining the two as we exchanged cookbooks as gifts on many occasions.

Katie will probably laugh when she reads this, but one of my favorite dishes ever was right there in our shared kitchen.  No, it was not the beans and yellow rice, so nice, that certain suite mates ate nearly every single night.  It was risotto with sun-dried tomatoes and peas that I fell in love with.

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy
Almost there...but not quite
Being a young woman who'd grown up in Alabama, we didn't make much risotto. We didn't make any risotto.  I'd never even heard of such a thing. Is it rice? Is it pasta? Italian rice? Who knew! Well, my sweet Katie knew.

Imagine a time when you had time.  Classes were done for the day and there was reading to do and papers to write; but, that could all wait.  At a tiny table, which took up nearly the entire kitchen, Katie stood at the stove with one pot warming chicken broth and another pot where the risotto was slowly absorbing small amounts of broth, getting creamier and creamier with each stir.  It was a long process, but it gave us time to talk, vent, and just bitch. We had nothing but time and didn't foresee the day when all of our conversations would be interrupted by smaller people than us and all conversation would ultimately be broken and hard to follow.

Mushroom Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Peas from Food Therapy
Just right
Well, the other night for dinner I was filled with nostalgia for those college years.  Tuesday nights have become the only night of the week when we have absolutely no activities and nowhere to be.  I had time.  No Katie to hang out with, but I did have the time to stand at the stove, drink a glass of Chablis, and listen to my music (and my how that has changed over the years!).  I was faced with the decision of what to add to my risotto.  I had some beautiful and plump sundried tomatoes in the pantry, fresh peas, and mushrooms.  I was set.  After gathering a few herbs to flavor the chicken broth, I slowed down for the evening.  I advise you to do the same.  Find a night when you're free.  Grab a friend, grab a spouse, or just be fine being alone.  Make risotto and enjoy the process.

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4 cups Chicken Broth (more depending on the consistency of the risotto you prefer)
Mixture of fresh herbs for a bouquet (I used parsley, thyme, and sage)
1 cup risotto or short-grained rice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped mushrooms (white or baby bellas)
1/2 cup fresh or thawed peas
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

1.  In a medium saucepan, pour in the chicken broth and place your herbs into the pot.  Warm at medium heat. Do not bring to a boil.

2.  In a separate deep saute pan, warm olive oil over medium heat.  Add the chopped onions and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Saute until the onions are translucent.

3.  Add the uncooked risotto to the pan and saute for 3 minutes, continually stirring.

4.  Add the chopped mushrooms, peas, and tomatoes.  Stir to mix all of the ingredients together for a minute.

5.  Turn the temperature down to medium-low.  Remove the herbs from the warmed chicken broth.  Add one cup of the warm broth to the risotto/vegetable mixture. Stir, stir, stir until the broth is almost completely absorbed by the risotto.

6.  Continue to add broth 1/2 cup at a time until the risotto is the consistency and texture you desire.  Make certain to allow the broth to be absorbed by the risotto before adding each additional 1/2 cup of broth.  TAKE YOUR TIME and DO NOT RUSH the process.  If the temperature is too high, if you don't continually stir, and if you add the broth too soon, your risotto will most likely not release the starches properly and you will not achieve the creaminess that is the hallmark of good risotto.

7.  Stir in the parmesan.  Sprinkle parsley for garnish (optional).

8.  One final tip: it never hurts to warm up more broth than is required in the recipe.  Sometimes I only need four cups and sometimes a little more.  I continually taste and continually add the broth, not until it's gone, but until the risotto is the way I like it.