Your Risotto Could Be So Much Better, With Basically No Extra Work

Ricemaking legend Valerie Erwin shares her risotto know-how in this episode of F&W Cooks.

Valerie Erwin knows risotto. Granted, the chef, educator, activist, and owner of the dearly-missed Geechee Girl Rice Cafe in Philadelphia is a master of just about every rice method on the planet, but we're especially captivated by her flavor-building brilliance when it comes to crafting this Italian staple. Erwin visited the Food & Wine Test Kitchen to share her step-by-step method for making Dried-Porcini-Mushroom Risotto with Goat Cheese.

Make the Most of Mushrooms

Erwin demonstrated a Dried-Porcini-Mushroom Risotto with Goat Cheese using dried mushrooms—and they provide more than just a textural treat. Before she does anything else, Erwin rehydrates the porcinis with hot water, which both allows the mushrooms to plump back up, and as a side benefit provides a deeply savory liquid that can be used to amplify the flavor of the rice, or saved for another dish. There may be a little residual dirt or silt at the bottom of the broth, so take a moment to line a sieve with a paper towel to strain out any errant bits.

Get Chopping—Carefully

Take the time to really chop up that garlic, advises Erwin. No one wants to chomp down on a giant chunk and blow out their palate while they're savoring your masterpiece. Same goes for the rehydrated mushrooms. "They can be irregular, but you want them kind of small because the rice is kind of small," she says. "That way, everybody will get a little bit of mushroom."

Get Set to Simmer

Warmed liquid makes the stirring process go much more swiftly and smoothly. Combine that strained mushroom broth with chicken stock and bring it to a simmer. Then, Erwin says, you can remove it from the heat, but keep it nearby so you can add it to the rice slowly.

Ready, Set, Sauté

After a glug of oil, add chopped onions to a heavy warmed pot, and season with a little bit of salt. More salt will be added later, but Erwin explains that a half-teaspoon will help the onions soften, and boosts flavor from the get-go. Garlic goes in next, and then the rice. Sautéing the dry rice to translucent helps create "a creamy risotto, but not one that falls apart."

Rotate That Rice

Arborio is a classic short-grain rice that is key to making classic risotto, because its structure ensures the dish's signature silkiness, while maintaining the ideal al dente texture. Erwin stirs the mushrooms into the mix, then ladles the warmed liquid into the pot little by little in a steady stream so the grains absorb it, but not too quickly. This will take some time, and Erwin notes, "If I were at my house, I would probably be stirring with one hand and drinking a glass of wine with the other hand."

Make It the G.O.A.T. (Cheese)

If all that sumptuous flavor weren't already enough, Erwin adds butter and goat cheese into the mix. It's a rich dish, she says, and the tanginess of the goat cheese adds a gorgeous flavor balance, and plays well against the earthiness of the mushrooms. Freshly-ground pepper adds a little ker-pow, and a dusting of Parmesan on top of each portion—or a whole serving bowl—brings a final nutty note to this company-worthy dish.

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