Risotto With Dried Mushrooms

With rice in the cupboard, you know you’re going to get a good feed. Sometimes you need to make do with lucky breaks, like that old packet of dried mushrooms in the back of the pantry.

Any decent, and not so decent, Italian deli will have a cache of dried mushrooms stuck in a dusty corner. When you see them, grab a packet and stick it in a dusty corner of your pantry, for that desperate day when all is lost, and you need something with real spirit to add balance to a newly opened bottle of full-bodied red.

My mum always says that you need to have plenty of potatoes in the house, so you can add a few to the pot when an unexpected visitor drops in. Risotto is like that. And the presence of dried mushrooms in the cupboard makes a certainty of a quality feed at any time, of any day. Dried mushies add real weight, an almost yeasty flavour, to the nooks and crannies of the risotto.


30 g dried porcini mushrooms or dried Chinese mushrooms

sherry, to soak mushrooms

½ bunch of celery

skins and stalks of fresh mushrooms, discarded from the risotto ingredients

2 large carrots, chopped finely

lemon grass, chopped – If you have it, lime or lemon zest if not.

fresh herbs


1 onion, chopped roughly

1 clove garlic, chopped finely

virgin olive oil

a little chopped chilli

400 g (2½ cups) Arborio rice

lime zest

50 g butter

12 fresh mushrooms, stalks removed, skinned and finely chopped – If you have no fresh mushrooms, use dried mushrooms.




10 olives, seeded and chopped

juice of 1 lime


black pepper

1 lime, for the table


Soften the dried mushrooms in the sherry. (If you have no sherry use water, or don’t bother at all!) It takes an hour or so to get some sense of reconstitution. Place all the stock ingredients, including the dried mushrooms and sherry, in a pot, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Simmer gently until the carrots have been cooked, and the dried mushrooms are well softened. The stock will have taken on a slightly brownish colour. Strain, retaining the dried mushrooms, and return the stock to the simmer.


Cook the onion and garlic gently in olive oil until softened. Add the chilli, more olive oil and add the rice, stirring the grains about until they are well covered. Add the dried mushrooms retained from the stock, lime zest, and a cup of the simmering stock. Stir constantly as the rice absorbs the stock.


Continue adding stock, stirring until the rice has just about lost its bite and the stock has been all but absorbed. Set aside for a moment.


Melt the butter in a warm pan, with a splash of olive oil, and stir gently. Add the fresh mushrooms, parsley, chives, thyme, chopped olives and a little more olive oil, and cook gently until the mushrooms are nicely cooked.


Squeeze the lime juice into the risotto. Season with salt and black pepper, add the cooked mushroom mix and stir it through the rice.


Serve in a large bowl at table, with quarters of lime to add at your leisure.

Dried porcini mushrooms are readily available in Italian delis, although the dried Asian mushrooms have just as much flavour, and are much cheaper, and with the surge of Asian food markets, just as readily available. Although the use of these mushrooms might seem somewhat discretionary, don’t you believe it. They add real flavour to any dish, and loads to a subdued stock. Beware, the price of dried Italian porcini mushrooms can vary remarkably across town. If you can afford it, it’s worth tossing dried mushrooms into any vegetable stock.

Thyme and mushrooms of any sort is a classic mixture. There’s something rich and earthy about the leaves of the thyme bush that makes them a great partner for mushies. No surprise that thyme is a wonderful pal of potatoes as well.

WINE: This dish demands a big, soft red. A shiraz from the Barossa would do the trick.