ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends


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Mushroom Week Day 3: Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto (Cooks Illustrated Sept/Oct 2003)

Mushroom Risotto. Tastes better than it looks. Srsly. (Cooks Illustrated Sept/Oct 2003)
Arborio rice on the bottom. Japonica rice on the top. The arborio is whiter because it has more starch and less protein. Note that the shape is even stumpier than Japonica. (Japonica or "sushi rice" is basic Japanese short-grain rice.) Arborio rice on the bottom. Japonica rice on the top. The arborio is whiter because it has more starch and less protein. Note that the shape is even stumpier than Japonica. (Japonica or “sushi rice” is basic Japanese short-grain rice.)

Risotto is fancy Italian garbage rice. In general, risotto is made by toasting rice in butter, then cooking the rice slowly with little infusions of flavorful liquid while stirring, and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring, then add butter or cheese. Voila!

The key to risotto is the special arborio rice. The grains have two unique characteristics: they’re high in starch and shaped more like a football than a sausage. Because the arborio rice grains are stumpy, football-shapes, they are less likely to break while stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring. Since the grains have lots of starch, all of that stirring rubs the starch grains against each other, sloughing off starch on the outer layer of the cooking grain and mixing it into the interstitial cooking space, making the risotto creamy.

We didn’t just have risotto for dinner, we had mushroom risotto. Again, this is a Cooks Illustrated Recipe (Sept/Oct 2003). To get lots of mushroom flavor the recipe has two important elements. One, like yesterday’s mushroom ragu, the recipe uses rehydrated porcini mushrooms and their broth. Second, the recipe adds soy sauce, which has lots of “brown” or umami flavors. So, in the risotto is 1 oz reconstituted porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup when rehydrated and minced) plus the caps of crimini mushrooms, cut into quarters instead of slices, so they hold together during cooking. The dish is finished with salty parmesan cheese, some parsley for color, and a bit of butter. Took about an hour to prep and cook.


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Mushroom Week: Day 2 Mushroom Ragu

Mushroom Ragu. Fan-stupid-tastic.

Mushroom Ragu. Fan-stupid-tastic.

Of all of the recipes I have ever cooked, this is the best. There have been recipes that are easier (mapo tofu), that I make more frequently (pasta primavera), that I save for special occasions (tonkatsu), or that I work hard to enjoy the indulgence (e.g. calzones). This recipe tastes the best, cooks the fastest, and is the most reliable. The whole impetus of Mushroom week was the mushroom and wild rice soup from last night, plus my LOVE for this recipe. I hope everyone tries it out.

You’ll find porcini mushrooms at high-end grocery stores, the internet or mail-order. Give them a smell, if you can get into the packaging. They should smell strong of earth and woods.

This is also another recipe that would be easy to convert to vegetarian or vegan. Substitute chicken broth for mushroom or vegetable broth (or water…) and either omit the pancetta or substitute some other faux-meat. If you do omit the pancetta, add extra olive oil (a tablespoon maybe?) and cook the tomato paste (step 2) until it is very brown, but not burnt. This will make sure there are lots of interesting maillard reactions to produce meaty flavors. You’ll be happy to give it the extra minute or two.

I want to emphasize how important it is to rinse and strain the porcini mushrooms. They come dried and there’s always some grit in the dried mushroom. This recipe reconstitutes the mushrooms in chicken broth to form tasty mushrooms, and a VERY rich flavorful broth. It may seem unnecessary to pick the mushrooms out of the broth with a pair of forks, or to filter the broth through a coffee filter, but DO IT. These steps make sure there is no grit left in the mushrooms or the broth. Grit will RUIN this recipe.

The first time I made this recipe, I totally skimped on the de-gritting of the porcini. I just dumped the mushrooms through a wire strainer over a measuring cup, transferring all of the grit into my recipe. It was not good, let me tell you…

Mushroom Ragu

Serves 4

Mise en place for Mushroom ragu. From top left: porcini mushrooms, pancetta, crushed tomatoes, parmesan cheese, spaghetti, portobellos, chicken broth and a bowl holding the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and tomato paste.

Mise en place for Mushroom ragu. From top left: porcini mushrooms, pancetta, crushed tomatoes, parmesan cheese, spaghetti, portobellos, chicken broth and a bowl holding the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and tomato paste.

1 oz dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed well
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 oz pancetta, cut into 1/2″ pieces (substitute country ham or thick-cut bacon just fine. Don’t substitute proscuttio.)
1/2 pound (2 large) portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed, but into 1/2″ pieces.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves (we used dried)
14.5 oz can of whole tomatoes
salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti
grated pecorino Romano cheese (I substituted parmesan because I needed parmesan for another recipe I’m cooking later this week.)

1.  Place porcini and broth in a small microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife.  Microwave on high power 1 minute, until broth is steaming.  Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes.  Lift mushrooms from broth with fork and finely chop.  Strain broth through fine mesh strainer lined with a large coffee filter into medium bowl.  Set aside mushrooms and broth.

2.  Heat pancetta in 12-inch skillet over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until rendered and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes.  Add portobellos, chopped porcini, olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, and rosemary; cook, stirring occasionally, until all liquid has evaporated and tomato paste starts to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add reserved chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, and their juices; increase heat to high and bring to simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3.  While sauce simmers, bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large dutch oven.  Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook until al dente.  Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water, and return to pot.  Add sauce to pasta and toss to combine.  Adjust consistency with reserved pasta water and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve, passing pecorino separately.

Per Serving (with no added cheese):
Calories: 641
Total Fat: 25.1 g
Sodium: 715 mg
Carbs: 74.3g
Protein: 28.4g


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Mushroom Week Day 1. Wild Rice Mushroom Soup

The mushrooms for this week's recipes. 2.5 lbs crimini. 2.0 lbs portobello. 0.5lbs dried porcini. and 0.1 oz dried shiitake.

The mushrooms for this week’s recipes. 2.5 lbs crimini. 2.0 lbs portobello. 0.5lbs dried porcini. and 0.1 oz dried shiitake.

This has (somehow) become mushroom week. In the most recent (January/February 2013) Cooks Illustrated, there was a recipe for Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup. It looked good, so I thought to make it for dinner one day this week. Somehow, this spiraled into an entire weeks’ worth of mushroom recipes.

I also want to learn a little more about mushrooms. I eat them occasionally, but not regularly. There is much to explore.

The first recipe of the week is for Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup. If you would like a copy of the recipe, please email me. I’m hesitant to post it to my site because it’s copyright from Cooks Illustrated. I wouldn’t want to get into trouble.

The recipe has two interesting twists. First, the wild rice is cooked with baking soda to keep the grains intact. Didn’t make much of a difference, as far as I could see. Our grains fell apart. However, I am a cheapskate, so I didn’t buy the $25.99/lb “whole” wild rice, but the $6.99/lb “broken” wild rice. Might have something to do with it. Second, they use powdered shiitake mushrooms and cornstarch to give the broth some thickness and body. The broth did have thickness and body. Success!

Wild rice and mushroom soup. I had to work really hard to make it look tasty. Mushrooms and wild rice tend to sink.

Wild rice and mushroom soup. I had to work really hard to make it look tasty. Mushrooms and wild rice tend to sink.

We made one main modification – I don’t eat a lot of dairy, and the recipe called for adding 1/2 c heavy cream at the end of cooking. This would be way too much cream for me – so we substituted coconut based nondairy creamer. It’s not sweet and the soup didn’t come out tasting like coconut.

I keep saying “we” like I had anything to do with the cooking. Sam did all of it. All of the prep, all of the stirring. Everything. I was in my office stuffing Holiday cards into envelopes through the whole thing. I did stop by the kitchen to refill my glass of wine and observe the progress.  Tomorrow will be different. We’re making one of my favorite recipes… More then.

We will certainly not starve.

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In anticipation of the storm, Sam was able to bake bread. He makes whole-wheat loaves using King Arthur (local!) flour. The bread pans are the Alfred Bread Pan from Tufty Ceramics. The two brown pans are the new ones I gave him for his birthday. The blackened pan is over 20 years old – his father used it to bake similar wheat loaves for his family.

So unlike the empty bread aisles in East Coast grocery stores, we have fresh bread that will last us throughout the storm. We may get real sick of peanut butter sandwiches, but I’m guessing not. 


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Norwich Farmers’ Market

Today we made it over to the Norwich, VT Farmers’ Market located on Rt 5 and runs Saturday Mornings from 9a-1p. We spent an hour and about $60. We came home with:

  • One braid of Shallots $13 (My indulgence)
  • 1/4 lb Welsh-style cheddar cow’s milk cheese. Cobb Hill. $4.50 (Sam’s indulgence)
  • Ingredients to make a pot of potatoes and beans for dinner tonight: green beans, potatoes, onion, garlic, carrots and corn. I’d love to have a ham hock or bit of ham to put in the pot. We’ll see what the COOP can do.
  • Ingredients to make beans and greens in the rice cooker for dinner tomorrow night. I’ll post details on that later.Read more here…
  • Ingredients to make an italian dinner one evening including tomatoes, garlic, bell peppers.
  • Some fruit: Apples and a cantelope.
  • Edamame
  • cucumber, celeriac and hakurei salad turnips

The Norwich farmers’ market is more diverse than many of the small Madison markets. There were plenty of vegetable farms, but few fruit farms. I saw lots of bakeries and jammeries (I just made that word up), plenty of good pastries. There were more herbs for sale here than at any other farmers’ market I have attended, and, in fact, there was an entire herbalist booth. It seems some of the booths are semi-permanent wooden shelters, and other booths are temporary pop-up tents. The market center is a wooden gazebo and today, since the market was celebrating its 35th year, there was a band and a raffle. 35 years is pretty impressive.

Cheese from Cobb Hill Farm, cut to order and wrapped by hand.

I’ll make better measures later, but it seems the average prices are on par with Madison’s markets. Some things, notably sweet corn, were priced a LOT higher. Sweet corn was $0.60/year or $7 for a baker’s dozen. I almost choked. Typically, I buy sweet corn at $2.50/dozen or not at all… We got two good tips on CSA availability. Suzanne at Luna Bleu Farm has chicken/egg shares and Your Farm still has fall and winter CSA shares available.

Note the sturdy wooden structures in the background.