The few weeks leading up to Christmas are not necessarily all eggnog and treats. Even though I devote a good amount of time to imagining myself on a leisurely Christmas holiday in the snowy countryside (anyone remember Muppet Family Christmas?) or devouring fondue in a chalet in the Alps, in reality this is a time of year when people work extremely hard. From cheesemongers to consultants to postal workers, most people arrive exhausted on Christmas Day. Perhaps that is why I find these celebrated treats and traditions that I’m discussing in “The 12 Days of Christmas” on Eating the Rind so important–sitting in front of your sparkling tree, it is with that special glass of bubbly or piece of chocolate bark that you are able to escape this often maddening time of year and imagine that the chaos outside your window is really a serene, wintry, alpine scene, free from shopping and cleaning and rushing around.
Back to the reality of that chaotic period right before the holidays, let’s face it–we still need dinner. The night before many a Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve, when my mother was up to her eyeballs in stuffing and baking and when a lot of people would have ordered pizza, Mom ALWAYS cooked a meal. And if she doesn’t know it yet, she has passed that talent/curse onto me. Don’t get me wrong–I love going out to dinner–just not all the time. Except for the occasional Chinese or Thai takeout and even rarer pizza, I am pretty adamant about eating homecooked food. After traveling this summer in Europe and Morocco for about a month, I still craved my own food even in light of the delicious meals we were eating. I don’t think the craziness of the last several days before Christmas is reason to eat cereal for dinner, as those days are still festive and special. So should be your supper: mushroom risotto.
Mushroom risotto is one of those dishes that you see EVERYWHERE–probably because it is so easy to tweak. One of the great things about risotto is that it is an opportunity to pull out any interesting herbs, oils, or salts you have kicking around. Here I used some of my Flor de Sal aromatizada com Vinho Branco e Ervas Aromaticas that I picked up in Portugal which I think translates loosely to “sea salt infused with white wine and herbs.”
One other ingredient I used in my risotto that is particularly of interest on Eating the Rind is a parmesan rind. I prefer the cheesy, infused flavor of the slowly melting rind to constantly grating (and usually nicking a nail) the parm on my microplane. I topped mine with a poached egg (and then two fried eggs on the night I was too lazy to write this).
Eating the Rind’s Mushroom Risotto
approx. 6 cups hot chicken stock (low-sodium if using store bought)
1 lb. mushrooms (I used cremini and shiitake), sliced
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 c. arborio rice
2/3 c. cognac
few sprigs of thyme and marjoram, chopped
2 tbsp. butter
salt and pepper
handful of fresh parsley
Heat chicken stock in a saucepan and keep on a low simmer. In a large pan over medium-high heat, add few tablespoons of olive oil and butter and the onion and celery. Slowly cook vegetables for about 10 minutes without browning. Add mushrooms, garlic, and herbs, salt and pepper, and cook for another few minutes until mushrooms are softened slightly. Add rice and stir to toast in pan for about 2 minutes before then adding the cognac. Stir until liquid is absorbed, then add parmesan rind and first ladleful of hot stock. Turn heat down to medium-low and stir frequently. Once liquid is absorbed, add another ladle of stock and repeat each time after liquid is absorbed, remembering to stir frequently.
After about 30 minutes, your rice should be tender, plump, and creamy. Adjust seasoning and top with fresh parsley and poached or fried egg.