Wild Mushroom Risotto: Foraging Your Own in the Czech Republic
Putting our car into reverse and backing out of the cottage yesterday, I turned and realized the back seat was covered with mushrooms. The cushions were actually rendered invisible in favor of various colors, shapes, and sizes of the wild mushrooms we had picked over the weekend. “Wow”, I exhaled, then quietly pulled out onto the country road and meditated on how someone like me came to be a mushroom harvester. I cracked the window to release the earthly vapors – “what are we going to do with all these?” . . . “how can I cook these?” I wondered. I suppose the answer will reveal itself in the coming days.
Czechs spend hours in the forest come late August to the first frost seeking various edible fungi. Perhaps the holy grail of mushrooms, the hříbek, is the most beloved in the country and looks much like how an American would imagine a fairy tale mushroom to be. Finding these leaved gems can be quite exhilarating upon discovery and the scavenger hunt kid in you rushes back to your bones. Wow, you found it – call the others over softly! (etiquette: no screaming or yelling in the forest, though – period!)
Yet pickers beware; mushrooms are serious business and can be deadly. In fact, the Austrian’s mother’s friend ate the wrong mushroom in her teens, if I remember the story correctly, and died hours later. As an expat, I have spent many summers in the forest – gleefully calling over my Czech friends and family to see my new-found, wooded treasures only to hear they would strike a drove of wild boar dead with one nibble. Boom! Dead! Out of my wicker basket it returns to the earth (etiquette: wrong mushroom? It gets placed back in the ground erect like you found it – not thrown or littered). Shrug it off, learn from it, and continue your search.
That said, I have spent years under Czech supervision and have been taught along the way by a true mushroom-slayer; my 5’2″ mother-in-law in pink crocs. Czechs learn how to mushroom pick from their elders at an early age and the knowledge is passed down generation to generation, unlike Germans (::cue cricket noise::). Hours are spent joyfully in the woods on weekends and is a warm and wonderful way to bond with family and friends to share in a great arboreous activity.
- 1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
- 3 1/2 cups of mushrooms (varying, I use at least 3 types of fungi), quartered or halved
- 7 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
- 2/3 cup of leek or scallions OR 1/4 cup shallot
- 1/3 cup shredded carrot
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- In a large, non-stick skillet, sauté mushrooms in batches with salt, fresh cracked pepper, a pinch of rosemary, and Provençal herbs in EVOO and 1 tbs butter. Place to the side (Note: mushrooms will not brown if crowded or wet. After washing mushrooms, pat dry with a kitchen town. Cook mushrooms in batches and place in a medium-sized bowl)
- Heat stock on medium-high, cover, and reduce to medium-low
- In a large, non-stick skillet, sauté leeks or shallots and carrot in 1 tbs butter and EVOO. Add salt and fresh cracked pepper
- When the leeks/shallots/carrots are tender, reduce to medium-low and add rice for 3-4 minutes until the risotto edges are translucent
- Add 1/2 cup wine and cook until it is absorbed (3-4 minutes)
- Add 3/4 cup warm stock after wine is absorbed
- Continue this step every 3-4 minutes (Note: you may not use all your stock but it should be on hand)
- After 10 minutes, add your mushrooms into the skillet and 1 tbs butter
- Add 1 tsp lemon juice
- Continue to ladle your stock in 3/4 cup intervals until risotto is creamy and tender
- Remove from heat and stir in your Parmesan cheese
- Garnish with fresh chopped parsley, shreds of Parmesan cheese, and lemon wedge. Serve in a warmed casserole dish.