Maitake Mushrooms (a.k.a Hen of the Woods) are an inspiring wild mushroom to cook with. They range in color from white to dark brown (depending on their exposure to sun light) and look like something you find at the bottom of the ocean, not in the produce aisle. And their appearance is not the only fun thing about them! They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and have long been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to enhance the immune system, so you can feel good about indulging in these funny-looking fungi. Their earthy, woodsy flavor and almost crunchy texture also adds greatly to their appeal. They are fantastic either roasted or sauteed, just do not eat them raw. Use them alone, or in combination with any other mushrooms to add a different dimension to your favorite salad, pasta or fish dish.
When I picked up this beautiful coral-like bunch of Maitake mushrooms at the Union Square Farmers Market the other day, I knew I wanted to make an earthy, sumptuous and comforting meal to go with them. Thus, this creamy risotto made with red wine, pancetta and peas was born. If you are not able to find Maiktakes, any other wild mushroom (e.g. Oyster, Porcini, Portabella, Enoke) will be a more than adequate substitute. Please try this out on one of these chilly upcoming April nights...
Red Wine Risotto with Maitakes & Peas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 lb diced pancetta
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 lb chopped Maitake mushrooms (brushed with a damp towel to remove dirt- do not soak)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 c. aborio or carnaroli rice
3/4 c. dry red wine
3 1/4 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. grated parmesan reggiano
1/2 c. fresh shelled peas (or defrosted pre-cooked peas)
If using fresh peas, blanch them in salted boiling water for 5 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath and set aside. Heat stock in a sauce pan over low heat and keep warm. Heat olive oil in a high sided pan over medium heat and saute pancetta until it is crispy and most of the fat has cooked off. Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to pan and saute Maitakes until browned, then season with salt and pepper and remove from pan with a slotted spoon. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook just until garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and toast until the sides of the grains become translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes. Nest, add the red wine and stir constantly until absorbed. Add one ladle (about 1/2 cup) of the warm stock and stir until absorbed. Continue adding the stock, one ladle full at a time, until the rice has absorbed all of liquid and the rice is "al dente". Melt in the final tablespoon of butter and parmesan cheese and stir in the mushrooms, pancetta and peas. Serve with a hunk of paremesan cheese and a big, earthy red wine.