Porcini mushroom and bacon risotto aka the best risotto I ever made.

Ok, so maybe not the best, but definitely up there amongst the great and the good. A risotto primavera, using the first tips of asparagus and spring greens is hard to beat, as is its autumnal equivalent, made with butternut squash and sage. If you've been to Venice, the home of risotto and tried its signature salty, black as night squid ink version, how did it go? I'm intrigued to know.

Perhaps we should re-christen this particular dish the much less attractive ‘store cupboard risotto’, as it was made, as most of my favourite meals are, by accident one day.

Searching for a hearty lunch, I looked in the cupboard and fridge to assess the possibilities; the main ingredients were all there, sitting pretty on the shelves just waiting to make magic together.

The dried Porcini mushroom stock adds a wonderful chestnut hue to the dish and the bacon donates its sweet, salty contrast. Mix that up with the earthy tones of celery, spring onion, thyme and flat leaf parsley, plus the parmesan, plenty of black pepper and a good dash of good olive oil and you have one special dish.

If you're vegetarian just omit the bacon and add more salt at the end, likewise for dairy free just omit the parmesan.

Serves 2

2 good handfuls Arborio risotto rice.
½ bag dried Porcini mushrooms. I used dried, rehydrated Merchant Gourmet ones, if you’re lucky enough to find fresh ones, grab them while you can they are unbelievably good. If using dried, make sure you save the all important stock.
3 celery stalks, chopped finely
1 rasher smoked bacon, chopped into 1cm slices (optional if you’re vegetarian, just add more salt at the end of cooking)
1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped.
2 spring onions, chopped thinly.
½ bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped finely.
Handful fresh thyme leaves.
3 tbsp oil – anything that doesn’t burn at high temperature - rape seed or ground nut work well.
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
Pinch marigold bouillon (gluten free).
½ oz parmesan, grated on medium grate or shaved (optional if you’re dairy free).
Pepper – no need for salt as the bacon and the stock have lots in.

Just one other thing before you start cooking. Risotto, as many a great chef has said, is all about the ooze. When on the plate it should be oozing like treacle, not sticking to the dish like a piece of cement. The way to avoid this risotto crime is not to overcook the rice, ensuring it still has a little bite to it. Make sure you keep some of the liquid in the pan, ensuring not to steam it all out before you serve up.

1. Rehydrate the mushrooms by adding 250ml of boiling water per 25g. Leave for 10-20 minutes. In the meantime chop your bacon, garlic and celery stalks.
2. In a heavy bottom saucepan, warm the oil on a high heat. Add the bacon, drained mushrooms (save the water!) and garlic. Once cooked through, remove and then cook your celery. There may be some bacon mushroom sticking at the bottom of the pan, add a little tap water to remove and cook the celery through with added flavour. Once softened, remove and add to your bacon and mushrooms.
3. Ensure the pan has no food stuck to the bottom, add the rape seed oil and heat to a sizzle. Add your rice and stir so that each particle gets coated in a little oil. Add some of your mushroom stock. The pan should be hot enough to bubble wildly. Keep cooking and adding the stock until the rice starts to soften. Add your pinch of bouillon powder now so it mixes in well. Keep stirring the risotto so it doesn’t stick.
4. After about 5 minutes of rice cooking and adding and reducing the stock, add in your mushroom, bacon and celery mixture.
5. Try the rice. You’re looking for a soft outside and a good bite in the middle. If it’s not ready, keep adding small amounts of liquid and boil it away until the rice has a nice bite without tasting raw.
6. Take off the heat and add in your herbs and plenty of ground pepper, plate up and add your olive oil, parmesan and even more black pepper. Eat straight away.


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