To my taste buds, there is nothing more lusciously comforting than a risotto. The creamy texture brings me right back to my childhood, and the savory bits speckled throughout never cease to excite me. The only problem is that risotto is murder on a dinner party. Once it reaches that precarious point of perfection, risotto must be served immediately. A few seconds too many on the heat and it turns to mush. In order to achieve a risotto’s sublime texture, constant vigilance is required, leading to the inevitable neglecting of dinner guests.
But during a fortuitous pass down a grocery aisle last week, I spotted the thing that would put my risotto fears to rest. I grabbed the box and headed home for some experimenting. A few hours later, risotto was back on my dinner party menu.
The beauty of using quinoa in place of rice for a risotto is that you can cook it to the point of creamy doneness, leave it on the stove to cool, then microwave it piping hot again, and it will maintain its texture beautifully. This is because, technically, quinoa is not a true grain but a seed: One that is delicate, soft and crunchy at the same time. It is a nutritional powerhouse, too, packing more than twice the protein of rice, corn and barley, along with calcium, iron and all eight essential amino acids. In most supermarkets, you can find two of the many varieties, white and red. Choose the color you prefer and match the wine in the recipe accordingly. And remember, before cooking, the seeds should be rinsed once or twice under cold water to remove the slightly bitter residue.
In these warmer months, I might toss in some fresh peas or asparagus pieces and chives during the last few minutes of cooking; in the fall and winter, add some diced and roasted parsnips or cauliflower, a few tablespoons of butter or mascarpone cheese, and some toasted pine nuts on top. For a satisfying vegetarian feast that is sure to get raves, serve this alongside my Frisée Salad with Green and Yellow Beans, Poached Eggs and Sherry Vinaigrette, ending memorably with Berries and Chocolate Coconut Fondue.
Serves 8 as a side dish or 6 as a main course
4 cups mushroom or chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large shallot, chopped finely (about 1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (12-ounce) box white quinoa, rinsed in a strainer under cold water
3/4 cup white wine
12 ounces shiitake or white mushrooms, diced
12 ounces trumpet mushrooms, trimmed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1. In a medium pot, heat the broth over a low flame until simmering. The broth should continue bubbling slowly while you prepare the dish.
2. In another medium pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a medium flame until shimmering. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, stirring often to prevent browning.
3. Add the quinoa and cook for a few minutes until the grains are coated in oil and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
4. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until evaporated.
5. Ladle a half cup of hot broth into the quinoa and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Continue the process, adding 1/2 cup broth at a time, until the quinoa is fully cooked and there is no more broth, about 25 minutes.
6. While the quinoa is cooking, heat a half tablespoon of oil in a small sauté pan until nearly smoking and cook the diced mushrooms until browned. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl, and set aside. Repeat the process using the trumpet mushrooms.
7. Stir the diced mushrooms and Parmesan cheese into the risotto. Spoon into serving bowls and top with the trumpet mushrooms. Serve immediately, with additional Parmesan cheese for sprinkling.
Note: Once cooked, Quinoa Risotto can be cooled and refrigerated. Microwave for a few minutes to reheat.