Nothing can beat a good risotto and this mushroom risotto adds pancetta to impart loads of flavour into the rich, creamy rice. Pancetta is pork belly that is salt cured, then spiced, rolled up and tied and left to dry for about three months. Its flavour varies depending on the region of Italy it comes from. If you are unable to find pancetta, bacon would be the obvious substitute – and in that case I would go for a streaky bacon cooked crispy.The most important thing with a risotto is the stock, in this case using a combination of red wine and chicken stock, but you could also substitute these for white wine or vegetable stock with similar success.A risotto requires patience, you don't want to boil the rice in the stock, so only add a little add a time and let it absorb before adding more. If you are patient though, you shouldn't go too far wrong as the dish itself is quite simple, oh and lots of stirring also helps it avoid it sticking to the bottom and cooking evenly.Risotto rice turns creamy, and has thick short grains that absorb a lot of flavour – for me you shouldn't try to substitute it for a different type of rice; Carnaroli is a relatively expensive option, but Arborio is a good choice too – and that's what is used here.
- 300 g risotto rice (e.g. arborio)
- 100 g pancetta (strips)
- 150 g mushrooms ideally quality wild ones!)
- 150 ml red wine
- 2 onions (finely chopped)
- 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
- 1½ pints chicken stock
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 50 g parmesan
- a handful of flat-leaf parsley (chopped)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- To make the risotto, melt the butter with a little olive oil in a heavy-based pan – like cast iron – over a medium heat as this will lessen the chance of the risotto to on the bottom as it cooks. Then add the chopped onions, garlic, and – with the exception of two strips – all of the pancetta. Sweat until the onions have softened, and the fats from the pancetta have crisped and imparted the food with flavour.
- Add the risotto rice and stir it through the sauces.
- You can now add the wine – and bring the pan to the boil until the wine has reduced and been absorbed into the risotto rice. You can use white wine here instead, but I used red wine as I had that handy and the taste really works.
- Prepare the chicken stock, and make sure it's kept hot. Return the pan to a medium heat and add the sliced mushrooms and about a sixth of the hot chicken stock. Stir the chicken stock in and cook until the liquid has absorbed.
- Continue to add the chicken stock to the risotto, a little at a time until it has been absorbed.
- When the rice is just tender but still firm to the bite (al dente), add the parmesan and parsley and mix it through.
- Preheat the grill to high. Place the remaining pancetta slices under the grill and cook for 4 minutes until crispy, then cut into large pieces.
- To serve, place in soup bowls and top with the grilled crispy pancetta.
If you love Italian food, you might find our article about Italian Food Terms useful.