I've been on a risotto kick lately. Which is rare, because for years I didn't really cook it at home. Pasta meals for me were usually cooked last minute, a quick fix if I'm hungry and short on time and fresh ingredients. But lately I've learned to appreciate the slow art of risotto-making. The layering of ingredients. The alternating cycle of adding wine, adding stock, and stirring. It makes for a very meditative experience.
As part of a partnership with B&W Quality Growers, which grows watercress in eight states in the southern and mid-Atlantic regions, I've been using a lot of watercress in my cooking lately. Because watercress cooks very quickly, and has a subtle flavor, it's a great addition to a simple risotto with shiitakes, Parmesan, and fresh herbs. Also, since the leafy green is loaded with vitamins K, C, and A, I don't feel the need to add a side of broccoli, brussels sprouts, or carrots to the mix (though you could if you wanted to, of course!)
Many times home cooks substitute dry thyme and oregano for fresh herbs out of convenience, but I would really advise you to find fresh herbs for this one. Dry herbs would still work, but the risotto would have a much drier, woodier taste compared with using fresh thyme and oregano. For this recipe I used baby watercress, which takes maybe 5 to 10 seconds of stirring to wilt; if you use regular stemmed watercress, just chop it smaller and stir for a tiny bit longer for the same texture.
Shiitake and Watercress Risotto
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 shallots, chopped
- 2 cups arborio rice
- 1 quart vegetable stock
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 8 ounces baby watercress
- 8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 springs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh oregano
- Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook gently until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and stir to coat with the oil until the grains begin to crackle. Stir in enough stock to just cover the rice. While the stock is bubbling, continue to stir the rice often, until the stock is just about absorbed. Add 1 cup of the white wine and more stock to cover the rice and continue stirring. When the white and stock are absorbed, add the remaining 1 cup of white wine and the remaining stock. Continue to cook until the rice is tender all the way through.
- Meanwhile, in another skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes until softened. Sprinkle over with the salt. Add the thyme and oregano and cook for another 2 minutes until the mushrooms are slightly crisp around the edges.
- When the rice is tender and the liquid is almost all absorbed, add the parmesan and watercress and stir until the cheese is melted and the watercress is wilted. Divide the risotto into individual bowls or plates and top with the mushrooms and herbs. Serve immediately.