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Wild Mushroom and Orzo “Risotto”

October 12, 2009
Mushroom Orzo

Wild Mushrooms & Orzo

I’m usually suspicious when quotation marks are put around food , like “risotto” in this recipe for Wild Mushroom & Orzo “Risotto”. Or, around  “hamburger” when it was used on a menu to describe a macrobiotic vegan burger made from beans and grains. Quotes or no quotes, that vegan “hamburger” was not even remotely close to what a real hamburger tastes like. Yes, I should have known better than to order a “burger” at a macrobiotic vegan restaurant but still, I felt tricked.

Sliced Portobello

Sliced Portobello

I might be tricking you a little bit by calling this dish “risotto” (for the record, orzo is small pasta, not rice) but if you like mushrooms, you won’t even care because the dish is so good. Plus, this recipe is much less time intensive and stressful than risotto is. Most people I know (including myself) have a nightmare risotto story. It usually involves having guests over and serving what basically tastes like super glue in a bowl.

During culinary school a friend of mine worked as a personal chef for a very wealthy family that insisted on low calorie, low fat, healthy meals. Whenever my friend was out of town I subbed in for her and one week risotto was on the menu for the family. My friend’s lower calorie, low fat risotto recipe included a scant 1/4 cup of cheese. I tried to follow the recipe, but the risotto was sucking up broth like there was no tomorrow and after 45 minutes of stirring and stirring and stirring it was a gummy, flavorless glob of goo. I had nothing else to serve and the family was expecting dinner by six. Did I panic? A little bit. And then I added about five cups of grated cheese  and half a stick of butter to the risotto. Both completely disappeared into the gooey rice and there was no way to tell I’d added so much – except for the risotto suddenly had an amazing, rich flavor.

Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano

The next week my friend told me her clients raved about my “low fat” risotto. I can’t remember if I confessed to her or not. But there is a lesson here for all of us: Do you know why risotto tastes so good at restaurants? Because they’re probably putting 5 cups of cheese and half a stick of butter in it.

But I digress…this recipe for Wild Mushrooms and Orzo has a creamy, rich consistency similar to risotto and at the very most needs 1 cup of grated cheese (and no butter).  I served it Saturday night to some friends and it was the perfect autumn dish with a main course of grilled pork.

traderj_shroomsA few tips: Trader Joe’s has an inexpensive package of

chervil

chervil

dried wild mushrooms that works great for this recipe. I also used chervil for the first time in this dish and it’s a delicate, lovely herb that I now adore. Chervil’s flavor is mild and tastes like a cross between tarragon and parsley.

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