My favorite mushroom risotto is rich, creamy, and deeply flavorful. Roasted mushrooms, herbs, parmesan, butter, onion, white wine, and truffle oil come together in this homey Italian dish. I love risotto as the main dish, but it can also complement a light vegetarian or fish meal as a rich and satisfying side dish. Read on to learn about our mushroom foraging adventure and try our favorite risotto recipe.
There is so much food growing around us, we just need the skills to identify it. Mushrooms grow all throughout the country but most of us don’t notice them in our daily life. The best time to hunt for them is after it rains, walking through the forests one can find dozens of them peeping out of the ground.
Did you know that mushrooms aren’t considered plants? They are their own kingdom entirely, not flora, and not fauna, but fungi. The entire body of the mushroom is actually under the ground, and the part that we can see above the earth is the reproductive organ, also known as the fruiting body. The fruiting body holds the spores (seeds) of the mushroom. Armillaria (or honey mushroom), in the state of Oregon USA, was the largest mushroom ever studied, measuring 8.8 square km and deemed to be 2300 years old. The armillaria mushroom was also found to be the largest living organism on earth!
Our Foraging Adventure
Einav grew up foraging for mushrooms in the North of Israel and has wonderful memories of learning about them as a child. In contrast, I’d never gone mushroom gathering before, and it’s something that I’ve been longing to learn. We decided to hire a guide and take our families on a little adventure.
I’m not usually the type who hires a guide for anything. I prefer to explore and get lost on my own, whether it’s traveling in Asia or hiking in my backyard. (Perhaps you’ve seen some of our other outdoor adventures picking clementines or picnicking by a river.) Never-the-less, mushrooms are mysterious, and it’s not always clear which are edible, and which are poisonous. This seemed like the right opportunity to wander with someone more knowledgeable than ourselves. After some research, we joined Maya from lovinmushrooms in the North of Israel in a forest near the village where she lives.
She took us on an afternoon wander to her favorite foraging spot. What an amazing experience! She has so much knowledge it’s just bursting from her. Two-year-old David and Sophia sat listening quietly to her directions and explanations, I was quite shocked how interested they were in what she had to say. At the end of the hike, we made a campfire and ate roasted mushrooms and pita with labane cooked over the fire.
The most abundant type of mushroom growing through the pine forest where we wandered was a variety called Sillus. They’re known as “pine mushrooms” in Hebrew because they grow around the roots of pine trees. There is also a mushroom in North America called “pine mushroom” but it refers to the famous matsutake, not the case here in Israel. The inner part of Sillus mushrooms is edible but has an unpleasant flavor. They are spongy and are yellow in color under their hoods.
Another variety that I was excited to discover was Lapista nudas, purply in color and delicate looking. These beautiful mushrooms are edible but need to be boiled for 10 minutes and their water discarded before being considered safe to eat. The third edible variety that we gathered was called Sillus belini, these are also tastier than the more common pine mushrooms.
Proceed with Caution
It was interesting for me to learn that what is edible in one country may not be edible in another. The Russian population in Israel brought a lot of knowledge about foraging for mushrooms and the mushrooms of Russia, but many great mushroom gatherers have ended up in the hospital here in Israel because similar looking mushrooms here are not always the same species as in Russia.
After spending an afternoon learning about fungi, I understand more than ever that to become a pro at identifying mushrooms it’s something that I would need to do countless times. It’s best to bring a field guide with you and someone who is knowledgeable on the subject so that you can be certain of what is edible and what isn’t.
The Mushroom Risotto
One of my all-time favorite dishes is mushroom risotto. It’s warming and homey and very versatile. I’m a mushroom and truffle oil addict, but it’s also great with lemon and peas, or beets, or pumpkin. I love how creamy and cheesy it tastes although it actually contains only butter and parmesan and not the copious amounts of cream that your taste buds imagine.
Here is a recipe based on instructions given to me by a dear friend from her time living in Italy. Her original recipe had no quantities or measurements because making risotto is about mixing a lot and tasting. Get ready to use your arm muscles. White wine, olive oil, butter, and stock make up the essential flavor palate. I like adding in some garlic, onion, and fresh herbs as well. At the end, you can mix in Parmesan Reggiano and some truffle oil to make it absolutely delicious. A nice tip that I recently learned is that if you roast the mushrooms in the oven before adding them to the risotto they gain a delicate nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture.
- 4 cups sliced mushrooms of your choice (champignon, shitake, etc.)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cups arborio rice
- 1/2 cup wine
- 4-5 cups stock You can use homemade or store-bought, even a good quality powder will work. It's best to warm up the stock beforehand.
- 1 cup parmesan reggiano grated
- 3/4 teaspoon truffle oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven to 200 C/395 F
- Clean and slice the mushrooms and spread them on a baking tray
- Drizzle with the olive oil and spread small cubes of butter over them evenly.
- Bake for 35 minutes on 200 C/395 F, mixing once or twice so that they don't stick to the tray.
- Warm the butter and olive oil in a large pot.
- Dice the onion, add to the pot, and saute over medium/high fire until golden brown and soft, stirring as needed so that it doesn't burn.
- Add the minced garlic, lower the fire and saute for about 2 minutes.
- Add in the fresh thyme leaves or other herbs of your choice. We tried sage and fresh oregano as well, and they were both delicious.
- Turn fire up to medium. Add the arborio rice to the pot and stir for about 2 minutes until the rice is fully coated.
- Add in the wine and stir until it has fully absorbed
- Add in 1/2 cup of warm stock and stir
- Once the stock has absorbed, add in another 1/2 cup of stock and keep stirring
- Repeat this step of adding in stock 1/2 cup at a time and stirring constantly until the risotto is a good texture. It should be slightly al dente still but soft enough to chew comfortably.
- Add in the roasted mushrooms
- Add in salt, pepper, parmesan, and truffle oil and stir to combine.
- Salt and pepper to taste if needed and remove from heat.