Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Risotto, Funghi e Tartufi, Cara Mia

My sister and I went to Paris and Rome together back in April, 1994. We flew from Paris to Rome, then took a train to the Trastevere district, and from there we got a taxi to our hotel on the Campo de Fiori. The taxi driver knew enough English to ask us "Where are you from?" My sister said "New York." I said "California." "California?" he repeated. Yes. At that point, he burst into song - his own tune, his own lyrics. I didn't understand a word he was singing, but judging from the expression on his face, I knew he was brimming with enthusiasm over the idea of California.

We left our tenor at the front door of the hotel and dragged our suitcases down a long, narrow hall to the front desk. Oh. My. God. What was waiting for us at the end of that hallway was worth the long flight, the dragging of bags, and any hint of confusion as to how best to get to this little hotel. Leonardo was his name, and judging from his over 6' frame, blond hair, chiseled features and long, thin fingers, I guessed him to be originally from the north. But at that moment, all I could do was to silently thank the Universe that he had migrated to Rome, and was there at that front desk.

After we signed all the necessary papers, he informed us that our room was 4 flights up - no elevator. "You're kidding....." "No." Then he flashed us a knee-weakening smile, grabbed our bags and lept up the stairs ahead of us. We tried. God knows, we tried to keep up with him. But even his sculpted beauty wasn't enough to jet us up those stairs at gazelle speed. When we arrived huffing and puffing at the door to our room, he stood there, smiling as he handed us our key. "Grazie", we wheezed.

I remember us flinging ourselves on the beds of our high ceilinged room, as ecstatic as any teenager over a heart throb. We were in ROME! The men in this city were GORGEOUS! Could we just stay here? Like, forever? I had never been to Rome before. I never wanted to leave this place. And that was before dinner! We composed ourselves before we trooped down the stairs to ask Leonardo to suggest a restaurant. He made us the first of many maps, showing us how to get from our hotel to a little trattoria a couple of blocks away. We thanked him and walked towards the restaurant in the gathering darkness.

I have never had the sense of time that I experienced in Rome. Rome wears it's history as casually as a teenager wears a watch. We turned a corner and there was a Corinthian column, sticking up by the side of the street. On the wall of the building behind it was a faded painting. Around the column were about 5 or 6 cars, all parked at crazy angles. There was no tag on the column. No label on the wall. No dates. No way of knowing exactly what this fragment of history used to be attached to. It was just a place to park, if you were lucky. I looked at that column, that painted wall and those cars, and realized that if this was your daily backdrop, there was no way you could see the world the same way as someone who was born and raised, say, in San Diego.

We pushed through the wooden double doors of the restaurant and instantly fell in love with this choice. The floors were small white tiles. The tables were old and wooden. Everyone was engaged in animated conversation. The waiters shouted orders into the kitchen. Our maitre d' greeted us like long lost cousins and showed us to a table. As soon as we saw the risotto with truffles, our choice was made.

I will never forget the look on my sister's face as she took her first bite of that risotto. Ecstasy describes it best. Of course I couldn't see my own face as I tasted truffles for the first time. The combination of creamy and earthy, with subtle hints of herbs made me forget that I had ever eaten anything good in my life. I thought I would never have anything like it again. Ever.

And then at the end of the Fancy Food Show last weekend, I managed to score TWO jars of truffle sauce. Admittedly, the sauce contained things other than truffles - things such as capers and olives - but it DID contain truffles. I decided to look for a recipe for risotto which might approximate that heavenly meal so many years ago. Memory is tricky, for sure. I have no idea if the recipe I found is even close. I do know that I didn't follow it precisely - of course. And I also know that it yielded a creamy, complex, subtle risotto, as well as a longing to return to Rome.


2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved, thinly sliced crosswise (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup whipping cream

1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, cut into 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick slices
1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 tablespoon white truffle oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups (or more) hot vegetable broth
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons shaved or chopped black truffle (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley


For leeks:
Bring leeks and cream to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until leeks are tender and cream is thick, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm before continuing.

For mushrooms:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss all ingredients on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until mushrooms are tender and light brown around edges, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

For risotto:
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir 1 minute. Add wine and stir until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup hot broth. Simmer until broth is almost absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add more broth, 1 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next and stirring often, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes longer. Stir in leek mixture, mushroom mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cheese, and truffle. Transfer to large bowl, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Market Tip
White truffle oil is sold at some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Italian markets. Black truffles are available at specialty foods stores and from igourmet.com. A flavorful substitute for the shaved truffles is the Truffle Gatherers Sauce ($19), which can be ordered from fungusamongus.com.

Kitchen Notes:

I did not have leeks, so I just used onion, and no cream. I also had run out of truffle oil (NOOOO!!!), so I just used olive oil. And instead of vegetable broth, I substituted chicken broth. I used dried shitakes softened in hot water, and added the liquid as well. If I were to make this again, I would definitely use truffle oil because it is magical, not because I felt that the risotto was bland without it. I'd also consider adding asparagus tips to it. Again, not because I felt it was bland, but just because.
I am entering this post in Chris' "Kitchen of Love" event over at Mele Cotte. The ingredient I used which is considered an aphrodisiac is the wine, of course! At least, that's the official version. As far as I'm concerned, this entire dish could be considered an aphrodisiac!
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Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Oh, to be back in Rome, where the food is wonderful and, yes, the men are gorgeous! Taste memory is a powerful thing. You will never forget the taste of that first truffle risotto.

Unknown said...

What a wonderful, wonderful post! I loved Rome. I went when I was 18 with my mom and have always wanted to go back...as a single girl without mom...ha! Oh the fun I could have...:)

This Risotto looks to die for! Thanks for being the first to respond to my event. Very exciting. And, thanks for always being so supportive of Mele Cotte and me! :)

Chris said...

Oops - I commented under a random account! Thanks again for participating, Toni! You're the best.

Toni said...

Lydia - You are right.....I will never forget that moment I first tasted risotto with truffles.....

Chris - I understand! And of all people, you SHOULD go back and enjoy every moment of it!

And I can say the same to you -- Thanks for always being supportive of me!!!

Cynthia said...

You make me want to go visit!

Toni said...

Cynthia - For anyone who likes to eat, it's heaven!

Anonymous said...

I haven't had much luck with cooking rissoto the last time, but your post inspired me to not give up. I think I rushed it last time. Thanks for the inspiration , again.

Nora B. said...

A wonderful post, Toni. I was transported to Rome and I could feel the giddiness that you must have felt when you saw that gorgeous guy. Rome (and the South of Italy) has a special place in my heart too because I dated an Italian guy many years ago and he took me to so many special places.

Truffles are food of the Gods I believe.

Toni said...

W.O.R.C. - No, don't give up! It is a different process from cooking rice as they do in Asia. It is more time consuming, but it is definitely worth mastering!

Nora - I haven't been to the south of Italy. Yet. ;-)

Susan said...

What a blissful holiday, Toni! And a fantastic recipe. After my gnocchi, I can vouch that you don't feel cheated with white truffle oil - it is heady stuff. Great, great post!

Toni said...

Susan - Thanks! How about if you bring the gnocchi and I bring the risotto? ;-)

Katie Zeller said...

What a great story about Rome - and the handsome lad at the hotel.
I'm almost out of truffle oil myself... I feel a trip in the offing!
Oh, great sounding risotto!

Anonymous said...

I just got some risotto ! Will try this delicious recipe. Wish me luck! BTW- No wonder I have no luck with this stuff. From reading my last comment to you, I can't even spell it correctly!

Toni said...

Katie - To paraphrase Scarlett: As God is my witness, I will never be without truffle oil again! ;-)

W.O.R.C. - Good luck with it this time! Throwing in too many "s"s, and not enough "t"s is not NEARLY as bad as throwing in too much liquid and not enough rice! Thank God this isn't Mrs. Hewlett's spelling bee!! ;-)

Susan G said...

Oh, you do make we want risotto. I have the rice...last time (no, only time) I made classic risotto was in the 60's! from a wonderful book, Italian regional cooking, by Ada Boni. Now, for the faint-hearted, there's a pressure cooker method in Metropolitan Home Magazine, by Lorna Sass. Think I'll go slow. And Toni, I loved the intensity of your memories.

LisaRene said...

I have never tried an actual truffle but I do garnish foods with truffle oil and truffle salt all the time. It is a phenomenal flavor!

Risotto is a wonderfully romantic meal, one of my favorites to make. Good choice for the roundup.

Anonymous said...

Mushroom risotto is defintely sexy. And I can imagine the look on your sister's face all too well-- I'm pretty sure my face looked the same the first time I had this dish done properly. Great post!

Jade said...

This looks awesome! Who doesn't LOVE truffles :)

Angel said...

Gorgeous men and great food where do i sign up?!! As far as I'm concerned though your whole risotto is an aphrodisiac, it looks amazing.

T-Licious Treats said...

MMM...my favorite Risotto ;) I want a big bowl of that please!! Great post and Entry!!

NĂºria said...

I enjoyed your post and the comments on the nordic Apolo! A good risotto is always welcome in my table, wonderful choice, for me, it counts as an aphrodisiac too!

Mary said...

Your risotto is gorgeous! I just found some arborio rice last weekend and I'm itching to make some myself! I love the story too!

Ivy said...

Bella Roma! I love risotto but have never tried it with truffle oil. I suppose it must be very expensive as well judging from the price of truffles. But anyway a risotto is always welcome.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Sublime. This risotto is sublime, Toni.

Peter M said...

Mushrooms in risotto has to be one of the best meals, including yours!

The Passionate Palate said...

What a great story! Your words fit exactly how I feel about Rome, although I have yet to find a 6' tall, chiseled blond there! ;-) Great recipe and wonderful blog!

Dazy said...

I'm making this for dinner tonight. I think I'll try to shoot it, but I don't think it will be as pretty as your picture!