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a bowl of warmth for the new year

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04 January 2006

a bowl of warmth for the new year

mushroom risotto III, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

On the first day of the year, I had an outrageous mushroom risotto, unexpectedly, courtesy of an Italian mama from Tuscany, through Kabul. And with a bit of Tanzania and India thrown in for good measure.

After a quiet New Year’s Eve, I was prepared for another quiet day alone. But imagine my happy surprise when my friend Amal showed up with risotto makings, a bottle of red wine, and chocolate from Paris.

Amal and I became friends years ago, when we took the same African dance class together. Both of us tumble toed and laughing at the back, we started talking about our spiritual lives and making fart jokes. And when I told her the sad little joke my brother and I used to make about Billy Barty as kids, she just wouldn’t let it go. Instantly friends, we’ve been trying to untangle the confusing stories of our lives and laughing down the street loudly ever since. Somehow, we won’t talk for months at a time, but we always end up somewhere in Seattle, sharing a meal, the months evaporating before our eyes.

A few years ago, Amal shifted her life dramatically. Tired of working at the biggest coffee company in the world as a designer (she may have designed the shop you’re sitting in right now, as you read this), she decided to give her life to a third-world country. Her parents, both from India, were raised in Tanzania. Then moved to Canada, where my friend was raised. They instilled in her how necessary it is to work for others, and particularly, to work in a third-world country to make lives better there. And so, she quit her job at Coffee Conglomerate, and moved to Afghanistan.

Her time there is her story. I can’t really tell it. Suffice it to say there were small villages where Amal helped to bring shelter and water for the first time. There were terrifying encounters with Taliban members. There were terrible scenes of bombings and dehumanization. And there was a member of the Italian military, with whom she fell in love, in Kabul.

That’s how Amal ended up living in Tuscany last year, learning how to make risotto from his Italian mama. Slowly, with fresh ingredients, and with enormous patience. Nothing packaged. Nothing rushed. Everything tasting of confusion and love.

Will her relationship work? It still remains to be seen. Now that she’s back, will Amal stay in Seattle much longer ? Probably not. But she’s here now, with more questions than answers, a much softer face, and a killer recipe for mushroom risotto.

And I was happy to receive them all, with warmth, on the first day of the year.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Take the time to soak the chanterelle mushrooms the day before you plan to make this risotto. Amal did this for me, and I certainly felt loved. This step may make the dish seem intimidating, but don’t be intimidated. Imagine the sharp aroma of rosemary infusing chewy chanterelle mushrooms, with their scent of the forest. Taste the sage, with its faint tang and crumble. And the arborio rice, plump on your tongue, filled with the memories of all these foods, and the places they have been.

four ounces wild mushrooms, dried
sea salt (preferably one with herbs infused in it, such as Vignalta)
two stalks fresh rosemary (or dried, if fresh is not available)
one teaspoon dried sage
two stalks fresh rosemary (or dried, if fresh is not available)
bay leaf
one-half onion, diced fine
one-quarter cup chanterelle mushrooms, marinated in olive oil and rosemary
one and one-half cup of arborio rice
shaved parmesan to top, if desired

In a small saucepan, make a broth with the wild mushrooms, sea salt, and herbs. Bring it to a simmer, but do not boil. Keep it warm, on low heat, through this process.
Dice the chanterelles, which have been marinating in olive oil and rosemary for twenty-four hours. (This is preferable. However, if you forget to plan ahead, one hour of marinating will do.)
Sautee the finely diced onion on medium heat in a large pot. When the onion has softened and started to brown, add the diced chanterelles to the pot. Sautee for a moment, then add one cup of broth. When it is heated, add the arborio rice to the pot.
Stir and stir and stir. When the rice seems to have soaked up that broth, slowly add more broth. Stir and stir and stir. Continue this step until the rice has plumped up and fully absorbed all the wild mushroom broth. When the rice is tender, without being mushy, the risotto is ready.


At 11:53 PM, Blogger Ilva said...

Oh Shuna, have you been infested with bad comments lately? How utterly boring. Anyway, I can tell you that your friend was lucky to find someone who knows how to make a real risotto in Tuscany, here, where I live they don't seem to have the faintest idea of how it really should be made! But then I have a Milanese husband and I can tell that they are rigorous in Lombardy!

At 4:50 AM, Blogger Melissa CookingDiva said...

Your risotto looks beautiful! I am always in love with your photos...Hugs,
P.S. Gracias for adding my blog to your blogroll. Will add your to mine as well.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really excited to try this one!

At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an absolutely lovely post. Happy New Year, Shauna!

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

I was waiting to see this recipe because the pic looks delicious. I enjoyed the read thoroughly, as usual!

At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I especially love the phrase "Everything tasting of confusion and love." That is how I feel with a lot of my life these days.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Michèle said...

Risotto is a truly heartwarming dish and yours looks delicious! What a lovely start to your new year. Wishing you all the best for 2006!

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmmmmm..... risotto. Come to think of it, I have some arborio rice in the pantry.

Happy New Year, Shauna!

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I commented yesterday but I don't think it came through ... where can I find "wild mushrooms" for the risotto? What exactly are wild mushrooms? Would they be somewhere in my normal grocery store, or are they a specialty item that I'd have to order?

At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy new year, Shauna - thank you for sharing wonderful posts with us, I look forward to reading more of them this year.

This risotto looks irresistible!!

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

Wow, I just made a very nice risotto alla Milanese - but this one sounds awesome. Guess that's on the menu in the near future. Such a great comfort food.

Thanks for sharing

At 9:42 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Dear Ilva, I'm glad you have your Milanese husband to make your risotto! Imagine messing up a lovely risotto.

Melissa, thank you, my dear. I'm happy to add your blog. You're doing great work over there!

Sasha, let me know how it turns out. I think you'll enjoy it.

Luisa, my dear, happy new year to you too! I hope it's filled with yumminess.

Dawn, thank you. Thank you for urging me, from inside of flickr, to post this one. I'm so glad it's up now, so I'll know where to find the recipe too!

Beastmomma, I'm so glad you liked that line. It felt right when I wrote it. It's January. Isn't this time always about confusion and love?

Michele, the best to you too, my dear. I'm so happy to have found your blog in 2005. I can't wait to see what 2006 brings.

Dear Pragmatic Chef, I hope that this year is truly spectacular for you, filled with so many orders for Survival Spice that you don't know how to keep up with yourself!

Kit, sorry that the original comment didn't come through. "Wild mushrooms" sell around here at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. They should probably be called "Slightly Exotic Mushrooms" instead. Of course, there are thousands of mushrooms growing wild in the forest, but I probably wouldn't eat any of them. Mostly, you could use morels, chanterelles, shitakes, etc. Just any flavorful mushrooms would do!

Kieko, thank you so much for stopping by. Your site is one of my favorite in the world. And any compliment on food photography is high praise from you, my dear.

Ruth, isn't risotto great? I don't know why I ever thought of it as exotic. You're right. It's comfort food, for sure.

At 5:25 AM, Blogger In Hyderabad Mall said...

Rich, Creamy and delicious rich risotto makes for a great meal. IF you love mushrooms, thats bonus! Easy to make and relatively hassle free


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