I often think that, if you trying to reduce the amount of meat that you eat, a good alternative is to add mushrooms to your diet, especially if paired with my favourite store cupboard essential; beans. Mushrooms are, of course everywhere right now, spreading across fields and lawns alike. Even I’m not brave enough to go out and try foraging for mushrooms however, nor would I recommend that you try it, unless you are really (and I mean really) experienced and know what you are looking for. If you are lucky enough like me (or unlucky enough depending on which way the wind is blowing- the smell really has to be smelled to be believed) you’ll have a pretty limitless supply of local varieties anyway, but if not you still shouldn’t have to look too far. Dare I say it, even supermarkets seem to have cottoned on to the benefits of selling a wide range of locally grown mushrooms.
The health benefits of mushrooms are often overlooked, but shouldn’t be underestimated. They are very low in calories and fat, have low sodium levels and typically contain between 8-10% dietary fibre. Not only this, they are also a very good source of potassium, which helps to bring down blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke, with some types containing more than a banana. They’ll also help towards fighting cancer as they are full of the anti-oxidants niacin, riboflavin and selenium, as well as help protect your heart with their high copper levels. The Chinese and Japanese have used shitake mushrooms for hundreds of years in the treatment of cold and flu viruses, as they also contain Lentinan, a substance that stimulates your immune system, helps to fight infection and even displays anti-tumour properties. Luckily they are undoubtedly also one of the tastiest varieties around, adding an earthy flavour that other mushrooms are sometimes lacking, and are my usual choice for cooking but in this recipe I’m using my other favourite, the large capped portobello which really comes into its own when roasted simply in the oven, drizzled with olive oil. Together with a leek and truffle risotto you have the perfect vegetarian mid week meal. Now I am aware that risotto isn’t the obvious choice for a quick mid week meal, but if you make it the way I do, by adding the stock in 3 or 4 lots rather than the painstaking ladleful at a time, and leave it to simmer between each addition for five minutes or so, with the odd stir, you’ll find it a lot less labour intensive but just as creamily delicious as it should be.
Oven Roasted Portobellos with Leek and Truffle Risotto
3 largish leeks (if you have more, don’t be afraid to use them all)
3 fat cloves of garlic
Large handful of fresh sage
100 ml vodka
450g risotto rice
1650 ml good quality veg stock (possibly slightly more, but equally could be sightly less)
A few tbspns or so of pecorino cheese
2 truffles, diced (from a jar is fine) If you can’t get any, use a few dried porcini soaked in water for around ten minutes or so, then use your soaking liquid as part of your stock.
400g tin of flageolet beans (or any other similar beans that you fancy)
6 or however many you have large portobello mushrooms.
Preheat your oven to 180 deg. C.
Then start, as I’m always saying, by crushing your garlic and leaving it to one side to up that allicin. Then slice your washed leeks, and leave them to soften for ages in olive oil. Shred your sage and add it to the pan as well. If you want, you could always do this stage the day before and leave them in the fridge to help speed things up.
When the leeks are meltingly soft, add the garlic and the diced truffles for a minute or so, and chuck in the rice. Stir in round the pan so that it starts to glisten nicely.
Next pour in the vodka, turn up the heat and reduce down for a minute or so.
At this point, put your seasoned mushrooms, nicely drizzled in olive oil into the preheated oven. They only take about 15 minutes or so, and as nobody wants over cooked mushrooms, which tend to border on the slimy, check them carefully and turn the oven off when they are done. Leave the door open and they won’t overcook if your risotto isn’t quite finished but they’ll stay nice and warm.
Keeping your stock warm in another pan, next to the one you are working with, pour in about a quarter or slightly less. At this point you can throw in the beans as well. Stir round casually whenever you are passing and leave to simmer gently for 5 minutes or so. When the stock has been almost absorbed, pour in your next batch and continue until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked through, but still has that ever so slight essential bite left to it. It should take you around 20 to 25 minutes.
Stir through the pecorino, check your seasoning and serve along side your mushrooms. Delicious.