Wild mushroom risotto

Mushroom & red pepper risottoBefore attempting this recipe, if you haven’t seen it I suggest looking at the (short) article wrestling with risottos, which has some general advice and tips on making a perfect baked risotto.

This is a rather fiddly dish (although well worth the effort), so do also look at the notes at the end on alternative methods and simpler versions.

Serves 2



  • 3 tblsps olive oil
  • 200 g pancetta, finely diced (and with excess fat removed)
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 25 g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked and finely chopped
  • 250 g fresh mushrooms (shitake, oyster, whatever you like …), finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 170 g risotto rice
  • 100 ml Madeira
  • 50 ml šlivovic (plum brandy)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 tblsps freshly-grated gran padano (or parmesan) cheese
  • 2 tblsps gran padano (or parmesan) cheese shavings

Preheat oven to 150 °C



The following method tries to overlap a number of tasks to make things efficient … for a slightly longer, but less ‘intense’ cooking experience, look at the notes at the end.

  1. Put the dried mushrooms into a bowl and pour on 550 ml boiling water, making sure the mushrooms are covered. You need to leave these for at least 30 minutes (longer is no problem), so while they’re soaking  …
  2. Dice the pancetta and fry it gently in the oil until starting to crisp; remove from the pan and set aside. If you have good, firm ,well-dried pancetta, this will take a while, so while it’s frying …
  3. Wash and finely chop the fresh mushrooms into small chunks (say about ½ cm); finely chop the onion and pepper (keep an eye on the pancetta so it doesn’t burn)
  4. Gently fry the onion until it’s starting to soften.
  5. While the onion’s frying, prepare the dried mushrooms …
    • Lift them out of the soaking liquid gently with a slotted spoon – the water will probably be quite gritty and you want your mushrooms to come out grit-free – and put them into a strainer over another bowl
    • Squeeze excess liquid from them through into the bowl; put them to one side and chop finely
    • Then, line the strainer  with a sheet of kitchen paper and strain the soaking liquid into the bowl with the water squeezed from the mushrooms, to remove the grit. KEEP all  recovered soaking liquid
  6. When the onions are soft, add the fresh mushrooms, stir well and fry for a few minutes. Then add the dried (now wet!) mushrooms. Stir again, put a lid on and simmer gently until the mushrooms have released their juices, about 15 minutes
  7. Put a shallow baking dish into the oven to warm
  8. Add the red pepper to the mushrooms / onions and simmer for just a few minutes
  9. Return the cooked pancetta to the pan and add ground black pepper (and a little salt if you like); then add the rice and stir well (remember: stir gently) until all the rice grains have a good coating. Add the Madeira and mushroom-soaking liquid
  10. Bring gently to simmering point, add the šlivovic and transfer into the warmed dish. Stir gently to even the mixture out and put onto the centre shelf of the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes exactly (well fairly precisely anyway)
  11. Remove from the oven: gently stir in the grated gran padano cheese, turning the mixture over. Put back into oven, still uncovered, for another 12-15 minutes, depending on how firm you like your rice grains
  12. Remove from oven and sprinkle over the gran padano shavings; put a cloth over it and let it rest for a minute and then serve immediately



While this method works fine, in practice it means a frantic bout of cooking with no time to pause until it goes into the oven. If you’re like me, I like a break, so I often put the dried mushrooms on to soak; then do the pancetta; then all the other preparation – chopping, dealing with the dried mushrooms, grating the cheese, etc. After that, you can take a small break, which in my case usually involves a glass of wine, and then pick up the recipe frying the onions … and, as all the rest of the preparation is done, it should be a fairly relaxed process from here (leaving time for a top-up glass).

If you are doing it for a party, you can pause at the end of step 5, leaving about 10-15 minutes of assembly to get it into the oven and a total remaining time of about 40-45 minutes.

If you want a veggie version, simply leave out the pancetta – it works fine (I’ve done that for veggie friends and the original didn’t have it in anyway). You can also leave out the red pepper if you want to simplify it further – I added it mainly for colour (without it, it can look like a rather drab dark brown sludge).

If you can, use freshly-grated cheese, as that produces long thin strips which add to the creamy texture when they melt. I also like gran padano instead of parmesan, as it has a more intense flavour which suits the dish. I’ve never used the more powdery, fine-grained pre-grated and dried parmesan cheese you can buy – I’m not sure that would work so well, but you can try.

For the fresh mushrooms, use whatever type you fancy – I’ve tried it with standard white mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, some unidentified brown field mushrooms I found … they all worked OK.

The original recipe uses only Madeira; I added the šlivovic, a common local plum brandy. However, I’ve also done it with Marsala (to try and keep it as ‘local’ a dish as possible), and even a medium sherry / brandy combination when I couldn’t get Madeira or Marsala. They all came out fine (although I think the Madeira is best, as again, it has the richest flavour).


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