Friday, September 28, 2012


by Sheila Connolly

In case you haven't heard, today marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

I was lucky to read The Hobbit and the following Ring Trilogy at the right time in my life, and they have stayed with me since I was a teenager. I still have my copies from long ago, and I have reread them many times.

In Tolkien's mythical world, hobbits liked to eat.  And seeing as they lived in a part of Middle Earth that looked a lot like rural England (as it was in the 1930s), they also liked mushrooms.  When the hero of the Trilogy, Frodo Baggins, was young, he used to steal mushrooms from a local farmer, who set the dogs on him, since wild mushrooms were prized; later in the saga, Frodo and his traveling companions encountered the same farmer again, and this time he gave them a basket full of newly-picked mushrooms.

I hated mushrooms for much of my early life, and it was only as an adult (and a cook) that I came to appreciate them.  Now I revel in them (as you have seen in posts here).  This week at Wegman's I happened upon a large mass of oyster mushrooms that called to me, and I brought it home.

I suppose most of us think of mushrooms as freestanding things with a stem and a broad cap.  When you buy them packages at your grocery store, that's what you usually get.  But here you can see that the oyster mushrooms grow in a wonderful surging mass (and this is only a partial one!).

Unlike the morels I wrote about, oyster mushrooms are delicate creatures with a subtle flavor, so they must be treated gently.  I decided to make a risotto.  Now, before you laugh and move on, let me admit that I avoided making risotto for a long time—it was too much work, because you have to stir.  And stir.  And keep stirring until the thing is done.  But it's worth the effort, because the result is rich and creamy without adding any extra fat or cream.  Pick a dinner when you're not in a hurry and can stay near the stove and you'll do fine.

Mushrooms make a great addition to basic risotto, and it's my favorite variation.



1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms (you pick the variety) (measure after chopping)

5 cups broth (you may use chicken, beef, or vegetable)

2 Tblsp finely chopped shallots

3 Tblsp butter

2 Tblsp vegetable oil

1½ cups uncooked rice (Arborio, the kind with roundish grains, is best, but plain old white rice will do; I don't know if this works with brown rice.  Please, no instant rice!)

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a slow simmer and hold it at that temperature.

Melt the butter in another saucepan and add the oil.  Add the shallots and sauté until they are translucent (do not brown).  Add the chopped mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms give up their juices.

Add the rice and stir until the rice grains are well-coated with the butter-oil mixture. 

All the sauted ingredients, ready for liquid

Add one-half cup of the simmering broth and stir until the rice absorbs all the liquid (make sure you get all the grains clinging to the sides of the pan).  Then add another one-half cup of liquid and continue to stir over low heat, making sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom.  Continue adding the broth and stirring, but wait each time until all the broth is absorbed before adding any more (you don't want to boil the rice!).
Start stirring!
You may need to practice a bit to make sure the rice is cooking at the right pace—not too slow, not too fast, but just right.  Toward the end it will take longer for the broth to be absorbed after each addition, but you will notice that the mixture is becoming creamy.

After about 20 minutes, taste a single grain to see if it is cooked through. If not (the core of the grain will still be hard and white), continue adding liquid and testing until it's done.  In total it should take about 30 minutes.  Don't worry if you didn't use all five cups of the broth—rice can vary. Taste a bit and add salt only if needed.

Yes, there are five cups of liquid in here
When you're ready to serve it, add the cheese and stir it in, then dish up!  Okay, it looks a bit like gloopy oatmeal, but it tastes good!




  1. those mushrooms look like they belong in a sci-fi movie Sheila!

    I've never tried risotto, but this looks good. What did you serve it with?

  2. I've always been scared to try a risotto, but you make it sound so wonderfully simple. Get a book on tape or some soothing music to veg out to while you stir, and I think this could be a lot of fun to make (we love mushrooms around here!). Thanks for this.

  3. I loved the Ring Trilogy! I was traveling when I read it and had to seek out English bookstores as I finished each book. I actually read The Hobbit last and tried to read it slowly since I knew it would be the last of my little Hobbit friends.

    Funny that you should blog about mushroom risotto. Just this week I pondered making some and decided against it. All that stirring! I suppose it works best if you pop a whole chicken in the oven to roast so you have free time to stir.

    From time to time I see weird mushrooms in the woods when I walk the dogs. I've seen the huge puffballs for sale at the farmer's market but there's no way I would eat one. Sometimes I see something that looks like oyster mushrooms. Of course, that just makes me think of poisonous mushrooms. No wonder I write mysteries!

    ~ Krista

  4. Sheila, the first time I saw those mushrooms was at a mushroom-erie in San Francisco. That's all the artisan sold. Mushrooms. I agree they look sci-fi. Must try. I ADORE risotto.
    ~Daryl aka Avery

  5. Lucy, I agree with Krista--risotto is great to make if you have a chicken in the oven, and they go well together.

    Daryl/Avery, I knew people who used to harvest mushrooms in Golden Gate Park, but they weren't the eating kind...

    I have a friend around here who goes hunting in the woods, and she's still alive. I keep begging her to take me along. Maybe this year?

  6. Love, love, love risotto! But I cheat and make it in the microwave--turns out perfectly! Heat butter and/or oil for 2 minutes, add one cup arborio rice and your mushrooms (I sometimes add some chopped Canadian bacon), heat for two minutes. Add 3 cups broth, stir, heat 9 minutes. Stir again, heat another 9 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes, add parmesan and enjoy!