Risottos, or I should say ‘risotti’, are a terrific food for athletes and one of my favourite dishes. They are easy to prepare, and versatile – you can use a wide variety of ingredients to flavour them and to add protein, for example seafood. The main ingredient, rice, is a good carbohydrate source. And they are tasty and nourishing, as a proper meal after a hard training session, or in small amounts as a snack. I have been known to take leftover risotto in a Tupperware box to training to eat straight afterwards!
Life has been turned upside down this spring by the coronavirus. Northern Italy, including Piedmont, the home of risotto, was one of the areas worst affected by this pandemic. In my own mind, northern Italy means hiking in beautiful mountains, delicious food, and trail running. So I remember watching aghast when alarming scenes from Piedmont’s hospitals were on our TV screens. So this week’s recipe is a show of solidarity for Italy and Piedmont. I just can’t wait to go back to northern Italy, when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we can enjoy one of its many delicious culinary inventions.
Risotti are typically made with sticky rice varieties, for example Arborio. But in this recipe I am diverging a bit from tradition and using barley grains instead of rice, which give it a crunchy and chewy texture. Interestingly, the combination of rice and protein such as meat, fish or cheese, is popular around the world, for example Korean Bibimbap, Indonesian Nasi Goreng and Spanish Paella. With some good flavours, it’s a winning combination.
Mushroom and bacon risotto (risotto funghi e pancetta)
1 small onion
30g dried mushrooms (ideally porcini)
200g fresh mushrooms, ideally a variety eg shiitake, maitake, oyster, sliced
50g pancetta, chopped into small cubes
Approx 700ml vegetable stock made from a cube
50g parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
• Pour 500ml of boiling water over the dried mushrooms, leave to soak for 20 mins, then drain, keeping the liquid.
• Make your vegetable stock according to the cube instructions.
• Finely chop the onion and fry for five minutes in the olive oil. Add the pancetta and all the mushrooms and continue frying, stirring regularly, until the fresh mushrooms have softened.
• Add the barley and fry for two minutes. Add half the mushroom stock and stir well.
• When the liquid has been absorbed, add the other half and continue stirring. Continue this process with the vegetable stock until the barley is cooked but still a little crunchy or ‘al dente’.
• Finally, add the butter and half the grated cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well. Place on dishes to serve and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
(Many recipes call for white wine to be used as part of the liquid that you add – I have just used mushroom and vegetable stock in this recipe. Adding a little cream instead of butter at the end is another variation.)
Mara Yamauchi for World Athletics