Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

If you read my last post, you probably noticed the little pecan shortbread cookies in some of the pictures.  For some reason I have never posted the recipe for these cookies, even though they are a favorite.  As I nibbled on the cookies and thought about how delicious their slightly salty, slightly caramel-y crunch was alongside the mousse, I decided I needed to share the recipe.

The original recipe is from Maria Helm Sinskey’s book The Vineyard Kitchen.  As with most recipes that I make fairly regularly, this one is not exactly like the original…but it is very close.  I find that most of the recipes in this particular book work very well for me as written.  And Sinskey’s preferences and palate are similar to mine, so I have tried an unusually high number of them.  It is one of my favorite cookbooks and I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook library

It was my chef friend Nancy who first saw this book.  Knowing I would really like it, she gave me a copy.  It was also Nancy who first noticed the recipe for these cookies and made them for a dinner we were preparing when we worked together at The Culinary Center of Kansas City.  We both loved them and have both continued to make them over the years.  They are a great companion for all kinds of cool, creamy desserts--things like custard, flan, panna cotta, and ice cream.  I particularly like them with the butterscotch pot de crème I posted a few years ago.  I probably wouldn’t have made them on purpose to go with the mousse (I just so happened to have some in my freezer), but they were perfect.  They are also very good all by themselves…perhaps with a cup of coffee or tea….or even a glass of milk.

The original recipe for these cookies was for a smaller quantity of dough, baked in a smaller pan (a nine inch square).  Because we were making the cookies that first time for a very large group, Nancy multiplied the recipe by three and put it in a half sheet pan.  This turned out to be a fortuitous adjustment since these cookies—like all shortbread cookies—must be cut when they are warm.  Flipping even the original small square out of a deep baking pan without breaking the thin, tender cookie would have been difficult….flipping an entire half sheet without some collateral damage, almost impossible.  Instead, Nancy cut the cookie while it was still in the half sheet pan with the long edge of her bench scraper.  I thought this was brilliant…and even though I only make a quarter sheet pan-sized batch when I bake them now, I still employ this method. 

There is only one thing about this recipe that I have found to be a little bit difficult.  The baking time seems to be highly dependent on the peculiarities of your oven...and varies more than just a little bit from oven to oven.  I have no idea why this might be, other than that the sheet of cookies is quite thin.  Once it is cooked through and begins to turn golden, it can go from under-baked to burned in a flash.   If your baking pan has a dark finish (like mine) this problem is compounded.  I have baked these in my home oven—which tends to bake hot and fast, and has very strong bottom heat—and they have been done in 20 minutes.  Recently I baked them in a professional convection oven and they took at least twice that long (I can’t tell you exactly how long because I was doing other things and just keeping an eye on the cookies occasionally…).  While baking them for this post, I slid an insulated baking sheet onto the bottom rack of my oven to help mitigate the effects of the strong bottom heat and my dark pan, and the cookies took 35 minutes. 

The moral here seems to be that you should take a peek at the cookies at around 20 minutes…and then keep an eye on them.  They will most likely take somewhere in the range of 30 to 35 minutes.  When they are springy to the touch in the center, and golden at the edges, they are done.  After a minute or two, cut the cookies in the pan with the edge of your bench scraper.  Then, let them cool completely before removing them from the pan (simply slide a thin palette knife under the cookies and they will lift right out). 

After you have made them a time or two, you will have your system down pat and you will find that these are the easiest cookies imaginable to make.  Which is a good thing:  I’m pretty sure that if you like pecans…and shortbread…once you taste these cookies, you will want to make them again and again.

Pecan Shortbread Fingers

3/4 c. lightly toasted pecans (3 oz.)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (6 oz.)
3/4 t. kosher salt (or 1/2 t. table salt)
12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 c. powdered sugar (3 oz.)
3/4 t. pure vanilla extract

Place the pecans in the food processor along with the flour and salt and process until the pecans are very finely chopped. 

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar until smooth.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add the pecan-flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together in clumps. 

Press the dough (using lightly floured hands or a sheet of plastic wrap) into an ungreased (see note) quarter sheet (13x9) pan 

and prick all over with a fork.  

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes in a preheated 325° oven until the edges are golden.

Cool a moment or two, (the shortbread should still be warm) then cut into long, thin, rectangular “fingers” using the edge of a bench scraper.  I usually trim a small amount—less than a quarter inch—around the edges first.  (Not only does this give all of the cookies nice square edges, it produces a warm crunchy cookie snack for the baker….) 

I then cut into 36 fingers—3 cuts down the length of the pan and 12 across.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing from the pan. 

Makes 3 dozen

(Adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

Note:  I always line the pan with a sheet of parchment.  In order to keep the parchment from sliding around while I press the dough into the pan, I very lightly grease the bottom of the pan—and then leave the parchment itself ungreased.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Classic Chocolate Mousse

This coming week I will be teaching a class that includes some of what I consider to be the most classic of all French Bistro dishes.  Because they are “classic,” recipes for them can be found everywhere and I didn’t think I would ever be posting any of them here.  But after working on the recipes a bit, I have found that I like the versions I am teaching so much that I will probably…eventually…share them all.  Since I usually think about dessert first, I thought I would start with the chocolate mousse.

What could be more classic than Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse?  If a random sample of people were asked to name a few classic French desserts, chocolate mousse would probably be on every list.  Most of my French cookbooks include recipes for it—and all of the books that focus on French “bistro-style” food include a recipe.

And the recipes are all fairly similar.  Classic French chocolate mousse always begins by melting dark chocolate with butter (some recipes add water and/or strong coffee at this point too).  Egg yolks (sometimes with sugar whipped in) are added to the tepid chocolate mixture.  And finally, the chocolate-yolk base is given its loft (or “mousse-y” quality) with whipped egg whites.  Frequently whipped cream is folded in as well. 

Some recipes use loads of butter.  Julia Child’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking uses as much butter as chocolate.  Joel Robuchon’s recipe recorded by Patricia Wells in Simply French only uses a very small amount.  Most recipes are somewhere in the middle of these two.

Similarly, the amount of whipping cream can vary quite a bit.  Some (Julia’s, for example) use no whipped cream—getting all of the loft from eggs.  And some use a fair amount.  (Thomas Keller’s recipe in Bouchon and Deb Perleman’s are good examples of this.)

Besides the chocolate, the main thing that is consistent from recipe to recipe is the eggs.  There are probably fluffy chocolate dessert recipes out there…some even calling themselves “mousse”…that don’t include any eggs, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if a recipe doesn’t include eggs, it isn’t really chocolate mousse.  

Furthermore, classically the eggs are used (and eventually served) raw.  In our era of an egg supply that has become contaminated with salmonella bacteria, using eggs in this way may seem shocking, dangerous and even gross (although, I find that people aren’t nearly as bothered by the thought of eating raw eggs if the vehicle is cookie dough…).  I understand the fear—and as a food professional I am particularly careful about serving foods that include raw eggs.  For myself, when consuming raw eggs I make sure that I am using not only best quality farm fresh eggs, but eggs that are from a supplier that I know or have met (or that someone I trust has met).  You must feel confident that your eggs have come from a clean, well-run, well-maintained farm/operation.   And even if the eggs meet all these criteria…I would never serve them raw to someone who is very young, very old, pregnant or immune compromised. 

To get around serving raw eggs, you can use pasteurized eggs.  Pasteurized eggs have been heat treated so that they are completely safe.  Unfortunately, I find them difficult to use.  The heating of the eggs for pasteurization initiates the denaturing process that occurs as eggs cook.  This makes the yolks and whites much more difficult to separate—and you must separate them completely (no yolks can remain with the whites) in order to whip the whites.  Furthermore, both the yolks and whites of pasteurized eggs take much longer to whip.  The images on this post were taken when I made the mousse with pasteurized eggs (you might notice the pasteurization stamp on a couple of the eggs) and if I hadn’t known from reading about them that the whites of pasteurized eggs would indeed eventually whip, I would have quit, thrown everything out and started over with farm fresh eggs.

Some modern recipes for mousse get around the raw egg issue by “cooking” the egg yolks and/or egg whites with a hot sugar syrup. When applied to the yolks, the resulting egg yolk-sugar syrup foam is called a pâte à bombe. When applied to the whites, you have an Italian meringue. Some recipes use both a pâte à bombe and an Italian meringue…others use just the pâte à bombe in the base of the mousse and get the final loft from whipped cream alone. If you are interested in the pâte à bombe technique, I used it in a Bing cherry semifreddo a few years ago and Joe Pastry has a good explanation of it on his site (and he also has a chocolate mousse that uses it). I think though that most home cooks will find the process cumbersome. Pâte à bombe is difficult to make in small quantities (when I made it for my semifreddo, I called for almost twice as many yolks as you need for the mousse recipe).

The mousse recipe that I ended up with for my class is an adaptation of Joel Robuchon’s recipe.  It appeals to me for all kinds of reasons.  For one, it is deeply chocolate-y...and not too sweet or too rich.  But mostly, I love the final texture of this mousse.  Some chocolate mousses can be quite firm and almost sticky when they are cold (and this isn’t a bad thing—some people love that stiff and sticky texture).  When cold, this particular mousse is still quite soft…yet still holds a beautiful shape.  (I assume the soft texture is due to the lower quantity of butter when compared to other recipes.)

Chocolate mousse has a reputation for being difficult to make…and I can’t quite figure out why this might be.  Other than the fact that you have to be prepared to use several bowls, it is a very straightforward thing to make…and uses ingredients that many people will already have on hand.  Perhaps the perceived difficulty is the whipping of the egg whites (and cream) and the final folding process.

If these are the things that make you pause, I can assure you that they aren’t difficult to do.  If  you err on the side of slightly under whipping your whites and cream (rather than over whipping) you will be in good shape.  (If you are totally new to whipping whites and folding them into another mixture, I explained both techniques in detail on my angel food cake post.)

I love to serve this mousse in little pot de crème cups…or pretty cut glass sherbets…  But if you want to serve this to your family and friends the way you would most likely enjoy it in a traditional French Bistro, pile the mousse into a serving bowl and pass it at the table accompanied by a big spoon so that everyone can help themselves to as much as they want.  And while you could  serve it with a dollop of whipped cream…or a little vanilla custard sauce…I find that these things interfere with the pure chocolate experience of the mousse (which is what chocolate mousse is all about when you come right down to it...).  A few chocolate shavings scattered over the surface is the perfect finishing touch…. with maybe a few crisp shortbread cookies on the side for a little contrasting crunch… 

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse
Mousse au Chocolat Amer

5 oz. bittersweet (60 to 64%) chocolate, chopped
2 T. butter, cut into pieces
2 T. espresso or hot water
1/4 c. heavy whipping cream, chilled
4 large eggs (best quality farm fresh or pasteurized—see notes), separated
4 T. vanilla sugar, divided (see notes)

Place the chocolate, butter and espresso in a large heat proof bowl and set the bowl over barely simmering water.  Stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are mostly melted.  Remove from heat, continuing to stir occasionally until completely smooth.  Let cool until the chocolate is just slightly warmer than body temperature.

While the chocolate cools, place the cream in a small bowl and whip until softly mounding.  Chill until ready to finish the mousse.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks with a tablespoon of the sugar until thick and lightened in color (the mixture should be pale yellow). 

Whisk this mixture into the tepid chocolate.

Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture and set aside while you whip the whites. 

Whip the whites in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or by hand with a wire whisk) until they begin to hold a shape.  Sprinkle in the remaining sugar and continue to whisk/whip until the whites form soft peaks.  

Whisk a third of the whites into the chocolate mixture.   

Gently fold the remaining whites into the lightened chocolate mixture until no white streaks remain. 

Spoon or pipe the mousse into a one quart serving bowl or individual dessert dishes.  

Refrigerate for at least an hour…four or more hours is optimal (the mousse may be safely stored for 24 hours)…before serving.  Garnish with shaved chocolate.  Serves 6 to 8. 

  • If you don’t have vanilla sugar, plain granulated will be fine.  Add a half teaspoon of vanilla to the yolks.  You can make your own vanilla sugar.  Whenever you use a vanilla bean, rinse it well and then allow it to dry (it will become hard and crunchy).  Place the dried vanilla pod(s) in the food processor with some sugar and cover the machine with a damp towel.  Process until the bean is finely ground.  Let the sugar “dust” settle for a moment before removing the towel and the lid.  You will have superfine vanilla sugar when done.  Sift the finished vanilla sugar and discard any large bits of vanilla pod remaining in the sifter.  I have never measured the sugar when I do this…but I probably use about a quarter to a third cup of sugar for each used vanilla bean.
  • If you are serving this to someone very young, very old, pregnant or immune compromised, you may use pasteurized eggs.  I have made the recipe with both farm fresh and pasteurized eggs and I vastly prefer the mousse with farm fresh.  Pasteurized eggs are difficult to separate without breaking the yolks and because the pasteurization is accomplished by raising the eggs to a safe temperature, they have been lightly cooked. This makes them resistant to whipping.  The yolks will eventually become “thick and lightened in color” and the whites will eventually “form soft peaks”—of a sort—but neither will achieve the loft and shape of fresh eggs.  And be warned…it takes a long time to get them to whip (much longer than fresh eggs)…you will definitely need an electric mixer if you use pasteurized eggs.
  • If you only have one set of beaters or one whisk attachment for your mixer, make sure that you wash it and dry it thoroughly between each step.  The whites in particular will not whip if there is any fat from the cream or eggs that gets into the bowl with the whites. 
(Recipe adapted from Simply French by Patricia Wells)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Creamy Parsnip Soup with Walnut-Sage Pesto

I don’t think I tasted a parsnip until I was well into adulthood.  This is not to say I would have tasted them (or liked them) had I been served some when I was a child (as I have mentioned many times, I was an extremely picky eater).  For some reason they just never crossed my path.  I think that many Americans would tell a similar story…and that almost as many American adults would say they had still not tasted them.   

Even if I didn’t know of this lack of exposure from my cooking classes, the sad, wax-covered (an attempt to preserve moisture for an overly long stay in the produce aisle) parsnips available in many grocery stores would tell the tale.  But, if the reaction of the people who have attended my classes is any indication, most people will like them when given the chance.   If you have never sampled a parsnip…or if you have only had the old, tired, waxed ones...the parsnip soup I am posting today would be a great starting place to experience just how delicious a parsnip can be.

It is a surprise to me that parsnips aren’t more widely served on American tables.  One of the unfortunate things about our national palate is that Americans gravitate towards sweet flavors…even in savory dishes.  This proclivity should work in the favor of parsnips…they are quite sweet.  So sweet in fact that I find they need a bit of tempering from complimentary flavors.  They go beautifully with pungent turnips and rutabagas (roasted together…baked in a gratin…folded into a purée…).  And they are fantastic with the slightly bitter and musty flavor of the walnut and sage garnish for this soup.

The recipe for this soup is from Alice Waters’ book The Art of Simple Food II.  As is almost always the case, the balance of flavors in her recipe is just about perfect.  I have changed it in only one respect:  Waters serves it as a chunky vegetable soup.  I like to purée it (suggested as a variation in the original recipe).  Parsnips purée into an incredibly velvety soup—and the drizzle of the coarse walnut-sage pesto is beautiful against the off white color of the soup. 

Furthermore, because parsnips aren’t the most popular vegetables on the produce aisle, sometimes the ones I have access to (even though they haven’t been waxed) have hard cores that resist cooking—even after the exterior has been completely broken down by the cooking process.  Puréeing the soup…and then quickly straining it…is a great way to deal with any unyielding, fibrous bits. 

To get good parsnips, go to a grocery store that has a reputation for carrying local produce…or one that sells an abundant variety.  Whole Foods, for example, almost always has them during the cooler months.  If you have a winter farmers' market in your area, one of the growers will probably have them.  As with most fresh vegetables, choose specimens that are heavy for their size (this means they will still be full of moisture) and as unblemished as possible.  And, if it isn’t already clear from my comments, avoid the ones in the grocery story that have been waxed.  You will be disappointed and possibly even disinclined to give them a second chance…which would be a shame. 

On a final technical note, when you make this soup, use the amounts of liquid given in the recipe as a guideline.  As with all puréed soups, err on the side of too little liquid while the soup is cooking (if you have too much, the soup might be too thin after puréeing).  Add just enough liquid so that the vegetables are moving freely and a bit loosely in the stock/water.  You can always add more (and the recipe indicates that you probably will) when you actually purée the soup.  While puréeing, add just enough liquid (water or stock) to allow the soup to move freely in the blender.  After you add the cream, adjust the thickness again (with water or stock).  I mention all of this because it is impossible to give an exactly correct amount of liquid in a recipe.  I have no way of knowing how much liquid will evaporate during the cooking process (you may cook at a higher or lower level of heat…your pot may be wider or narrower than mine…etc.).  Also, we may have different ideas of what constitutes a nice texture. In my opinion, a puréed soup should be on the thin side… Sippable, with a viscosity that is just slightly thicker than heavy cream, is just about perfect.

Cream of Parsnip Soup with Sage & Walnuts

3 to 4 T. unsalted butter
4 large shallots (about 5 to 6 oz.), sliced
1 large leek—white & pale green parts only—trimmed, halved lengthwise, sliced (to obtain 1 to 1 1/4 cups) and rinsed well in several changes of water
1 sage sprig
1 1/2 lbs. parsnips, trimmed, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch half moons
4 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock

3 1/2 T. olive oil, divided—plus more as desired
12 to 15 sage leaves
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped medium fine
Salt & pepper
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic

Water as needed (about 2 cups)
2/3 cup heavy cream

Mise en place tray for class...

In a heavy soup pot set over medium heat, melt 3 T. of the butter.  Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent—about 10 minutes.  Add the leeks, the sprig of sage and a good pinch of salt.  If the pan seems dry, add the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Continue to cook until the leeks begin to collapse—about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the parsnips and cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips have begun to soften on the surfaces—about 5 to 7 minutes.  

Pour in the stock.  Raise the heat, bring to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the parsnips are tender—about 12 to 15 minutes. 

While the soup cooks, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small sauté pan.  Add the sage leaves and cook until they have crisped and turned translucent.  

Remove the pan from the heat and add the walnuts and stir to coat.  

Season with salt and pepper.  Place the garlic in a mortar and pestle and pound until smooth.  Pound in a pinch of salt.  Pour in the sage and walnut mixture, along with another 2 tablespoons of oil.  Pound lightly.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.  Add more olive oil to achieve a consistency that pleases you.  Set aside while you purée the soup. 

When the parsnips are tender, remove the sage sprig.  Purée the soup.  If the soup is too thick to move freely in the blender, add a bit of water.  Strain the soup into a clean pot; add the cream and heat through, adding more water if the soup is too thick.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.  Serve with a spoonful of the sage and walnuts drizzled and dolloped over the surface of the soup. 

Makes a scant 2 quarts soup.

(Recipe adapted from The Art of Simple Food II by Alice Waters) 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Leek & Prosciutto Risotto with Sautéed Oyster Mushrooms

In my previous risotto posts I have made a point of discussing how to achieve differences in flavor and texture by how and when you choose to add the vegetable garnish (cooked vs. raw…at the beginning, middle or end…).  But stirring a vegetable into a risotto isn’t the only way to alter the way in which the dish is perceived.  Just as you can serve risotto topped with a portion of cooked meat or fish, you can also serve a risotto with an attractive portion of a cooked vegetable—making it so that one vegetable becomes the star of the show, rather than just one of many supporting players.

I bring all of this up for a couple of reasons.  The first is that sometimes I like to eat risotto all by itself.  It makes a wonderful starchy side dish…but it is special enough on its own that sometimes that’s how I want to enjoy it: either as a first course for a formal dinner…or as the entrée for a simple and informal supper.  In each of these cases, I always do everything I can to make my bowl of risotto look like something other than a mound of hot breakfast cereal.  I adorn it with a sprig of herbs…some nicely shaved Parmesan…or some other small garnish.  And this approach is just fine, but sometimes you want something more.  Topping the finished risotto with a separately cooked—and attractively arranged—complimentary vegetable is a great way to get that ‘something more.’

I have to admit though that sometimes creating a beautiful plate isn’t at the top of my list for a weeknight meal (neatly and cleanly plated is usually more than sufficient) and I am much more likely to go to this extra step for a client’s dinner.  However, sometimes at my own table find that I have a special and beautiful vegetable that I want to highlight a bit…so it doesn’t get lost in the crowd.  Examples include a few spears of fresh asparagus, just picked from a friend’s field…local fava beans (a rarity indeed in my region)…morel mushrooms that are so expensive I can only justify purchasing a few…etc.  This is a great time to make a risotto with complimentary flavors to act as a bed/background for your perfectly cooked, special item…which then gets perched right on top for all to see.

I used this approach recently to highlight the beautiful oyster mushrooms that a new purveyor has been bringing to the winter farmer’s market.  I used to consider oyster mushrooms a run-of-the-mill grocery store item.  Sadly they have disappeared from my local stores.  Since they are a favorite of mine I was excited when I found out that they would be coming to my farmers’ market…and even more excited when I saw the wide variety on display: Blue oyster, Pearl oyster, Elm oyster, etc.  This winter I have enjoyed these mushrooms in pastas…and on pizzas…and recently on top of this leek and prosciutto risotto.

I made this risotto just because I wanted to show off these wonderful mushrooms.  I could of course have just stirred them into the risotto—and it would have been delicious.  But it wouldn’t have been nearly as beautiful—or as much of a celebration of this wonderful ingredient.

If you are new to risottos…or sautéing mushrooms…before you begin check out some of my previous posts on how to make risotto (where I go into the details of the process and the goal) and on how to sauté mushrooms.  And if you don’t have access to oyster mushrooms, this dish will still be delicious with whatever mushrooms you are able to find—the sweet leeks and salty prosciutto are a wonderful backdrop for the savory mushrooms.

Finally, speaking of “topping” risotto with something special, if you have never formed some leftover risotto into a little cake, fried it in butter, 

and topped it with a softly cooked egg (poached or fried), you are missing out.  Make sure that you make some extra risotto, just so you can have this glorious concoction for lunch the next day.   After tasting it, you will probably find yourself making extra risotto on purpose..

Leek & Prosciutto Risotto with Sautéed Oyster Mushrooms

2 to 3 large leeks, white and pale green parts only
3 T. unsalted butter
1 large or 2 small shallots (about 2 to 3 oz.), finely diced
2 t. minced thyme (optional)
1 1/2 c. Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 to 2/3 c. dry white wine
About 6 c. hot chicken stock
3 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto (about 6 slices), cut crosswise in 1/4-inch strips
2 T. butter
1/2  to 2/3 c. finely grated Parmesan
Salt & Pepper, to taste

8 to 10 oz. (trimmed of tough portions of the stems and weighed after trimming) oyster mushrooms, larger ones torn in half (see note)
Olive oil
2 T. butter
1 1/2 to 2 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley

Prepare the leeks: Trim away the root and the dark green portion of the leeks.  Cut the white and pale green portion in half lengthwise.  Slice each half thinly crosswise (about 1/4-inch thick).  You should have 3 1/2 to 4 cups of leeks.  Rinse the leeks well in several changes of water to make sure that they are entirely free of soil and sand.

Heat the butter in a heavy medium saucepan (preferably one that is wider than it is deep) over medium heat.  Add the leeks along with the shallots and thyme and sweat until the leeks have wilted and the shallots are soft—about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add another tablespoon of butter if the leeks seem dry as they cook. 

Add the rice and continue to cook for a minute or two until the rice is well coated with the butter and is sizzling a bit.  Add the wine and cook until the pan is nearly dry.  Begin to add the stock.  Add enough so that the stock is at the same level as the rice in the pan—the rice should move freely, but not be ‘swimming’ in the liquid.  Adjust the heat so that the rice cooks at a slow simmer.  Stir occasionally and regularly (this will enhance the creaminess of the final risotto.) When the pan is nearly dry, add more stock and season lightly with salt & pepper.  Continue to stir and cook the rice, adding more stock and seasoning lightly as each addition is absorbed. 

While the risotto cooks, sauté the mushrooms:  As always, when sautéing mushrooms, do not over-crowd the pan.  If necessary, sauté in batches.  Heat a non-stick sauté pan over high heat.  Add a thin film of oil to the pan.  You should see a wisp of smoke if the pan is hot enough.  Add the butter and the mushrooms. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off has evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper.  If sautéing in batches, transfer the mushrooms to a plate and repeat with the next batch.  When all of the mushrooms have been sautéed, return all of the mushroom to the pan and heat through.  Add a splash of the stock to the pan (or use water or white wine if you have used all of the stock for the risotto) and allow it to reduce around the mushrooms.  Toss in the parsley.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.  Set aside until the risotto is done.  Reheat briefly if necessary before serving.

When the rice is al dente—about 18 to 20 minutes from the first addition of stock, stir in the prosciutto.  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cheese and parsley….and adding more stock as necessary to achieve a fluid consistency. 

Taste and correct the seasoning and serve immediately topped with the wild mushrooms.  Serves 4 as an entrée


  • If you are unable to find oyster mushrooms, any favorite mushroom (crimini, white button, shiitake, chanterelles, etc.) will work.   For mushrooms other than oysters, trim and slice 1/4-inch thick before sautéing.
  • Pack the left over risotto into an oiled dish, spreading about 3/4-inch thick.  Let cool and then cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.  Fry the cold risotto in a cast iron (or other nonstick skillet):  melt some butter over moderate heat.  Cut a portion of the cold risotto and carefully lift it out of dish with a wide spatula.  Place it in the sizzling butter with the top side down.  The top will be dryer than the bottom (which will be a bit gooey) and will be less likely to stick or fall apart.  When the first side is golden brown and crispy, carefully flip the cake and brown the second side.  Serve topped with a poached or fried egg.