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As leaves start to turn yellow, I think of all the beautiful autumn fruit and vegetables that I will find at the market. Mushrooms are among my favourite of these. My cousin tells a story of how she did not like eating mushrooms as a child. Her mother made delicious funghi trifolati (braised mushrooms) and she would eat them only so that if her family died of mushroom poisoning, she would too! She eventually grew to love them (and no-one died because of them).

There is an amazing variety of mushrooms in Italy. I took this photo at the Rialto Market in Venezia one October (northern hemisphere autumn) and there were wonderful finferle, chiodini and porcini for sale. Although these types of mushrooms are not available fresh in Australia, we can easily find wonderfully tasty swiss brown mushrooms, tiny enoki mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, portobello mushrooms as well as your usual button mushrooms and others.

Porcini mushrooms are particularly sought after for their earthy flavour and meaty texture. Italians go mad over them. In Australia you can buy dried porcini and even porcini in a jar with a wooden “mushroom” lid. Italians just love kitsch packaging!

Regular readers may have noted that risotto is my thing. I make it with almost anything. I also make it the no stir method, which is simpler than standing there stirring continuously! Rather than making a mushroom risotto, tonight I decided to make a risotto alla boscaiola (risotto made with ingredients from the forest) – pronounced Bos-kah-ee-oh-la. This includes mushrooms (dried porcini and fresh local mushrooms) as well as Italian pork sausages. This risotto is earthy and flavoursome. I use home made chicken stock to cook the risotto as well as a good slug of wine and the warm water left over from soaking the dried porcini. The textures in this risotto contribute to the overall experience – creamy rice, meaty field mushrooms and tender pork sausage. Match this with a glass of Nebbiolo on an autumn evening, and you will really feel like you have just stepped out of the forest.

Risotto alla boscaiola
Serves 4
2 good quality italian pork sausages
1/2 glass of white wine
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 brown onion, finely diced
400g various mushrooms (I used a mix of swiss brown and large field mushrooms), wiped clean and sliced/diced depending on type of mushroom
25g dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups risotto rice (I use Carnaroli)
4 cups chicken stock
50g unsalted butter at room temperature
75g grated parmigiano cheese
salt (as needed)
1/2 bunch parsley, leaves picked and chopped finely

Remove the sausages from their casings and cook the meat in a pan on low heat for around 10 minutes until well cooked but not crisped. The pork will release fat for the cooking process. In the meanwhile, soak the dried porcini mushrooms in some warm water in a small bowl (they should soak for at least 10 minutes). Remove the cooked pork from the pan and set to one side.

In the same pan, add a dash of olive oil to the fat that has been left behind from the pork and saute’ the onions on low to medium heat until soft. Add the chopped mushrooms (I have big meaty pieces of mushroom in my risotto so they are not chopped too finely). Once the mushrooms are warmed through, add the white wine and cook on medium heat and let the wine evaporate. While the mushrooms are cooking, remove the porcini from the bowl in which they have been soaking and cut them into smallish pieces. Keep the soaking liquid to one side.

Once the wine in the pan has reduced, add the porcini plus most of the soaking liquid (discard the liquid at the bottom of the bowl which has sediment). Cover and reduce heat.

Heat the chicken stock to a rolling boil in a small saucepan. While the chicken stock is warming up, place the rice in a large non-stick saucepan. Turn the heat to medium. Once the rice is heated through (but before the grains toast), add the warmed stock. The rice and the stock should be approximately the same temperature so the rice starts cooking immediately. Reduce the heat and cover, allowing the rice to absorb the stock for 10 minutes. In the meantime, add the cooked pork mince to the mushrooms. The mushrooms and pork should slowly simmer as the rice cooks. Add some more white wine if needed as this should remain a bit wet.

After 10 minutes the liquid should have been absorbed by the rice. Remove the lid and give the risotto a really good stir. Add the mushroom and pork mixture and most of the chopped parsley. The rice will need to cook about another 5 minutes to reach the right consistency. Have some boiling water on the side and add it to the rice if it looks like drying out. You will need to stir reasonably frequently at this point. Once the risotto is almost soft (taste it – the grains should be soft on the inside but still maintain their shape), add the butter and stir until melted. Then add the grated parmigiano. Remove from the heat, put the lid on and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with some grated parmigiano and some parsley for garnish. And don’t forget that glass of red wine!

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