Risotto (ree-‘zawt-taw) is an Italian rice dish which has its origins in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy, where it is normally served as a first course (followed by a main course). However, in the last few decades, as the dish gained popularity in mainstream restaurants and households around the world, it has come to be served as a main course on its own.
In the preparation of this dish, the rice is sauteed in onion and butter or olive oil, cooked in a broth to a creamy consistency, flavored with grated Parmesan cheese, and often mixed in with the chef’s choice of other ingredients.
A high-starch, short-grain white rice is often used for making risotto because this type of rice has the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch, thereby giving the dish the required creamy texture. The principal varieties used in Italy are Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli and Vialone Nano, but this dish can be made with practically any type of short-grain white rice.
In this plant-based version of risotto, the recipe calls for Arborio rice (which is available at most supermarkets and specialty food stores) and vegetable broth. I used porcini mushrooms and asparagus as the highlight ingredients because of the mushrooms’ delicious, nutty flavor — and to give this dish a gourmet appeal — but you can substitute with other popular risotto ingredients, such as peas, butternut squash, or other seasonal vegetables.
Gourmet Plant-Based Risotto
with Porcini Mushrooms and Asparagus
8 cups canned low-sodium vegetable broth (or 8 cups water plus low-sodium bouillon paste/cube)
1/2-ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup unsalted butter (substitute with Earth Balance “butter” spread for vegan version)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
10 ounces white mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ cups Arborio rice or short-grain white rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
4 stalks asparagus (cut in 1-inch pieces), steamed
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (substitute with nutritional yeast for vegan version)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, optional
Boil the broth, and bring to a simmer in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the porcini mushrooms. Set aside until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Keep the broth warm over very low heat.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 7 or 8 minutes. Add the white mushrooms and garlic.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the porcini mushrooms to a cutting board. Finely chop the mushrooms and add to the saucepan. Saute until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and let it toast for a few minutes. Add the wine; cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes.
Add 1 cup of hot broth; simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, adding more broth, one cup at a time, stirring often, about 25 to 30 minutes (the rice will absorb 6 to 8 cups of broth). Stir in the pre-steamed asparagus and the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper (optional).
Garnish with a sprig of thyme.