Perfect to warm up November’s colder evenings, this rich and delicious risotto is full of seasonal pumpkin and spiced up by chunks of Italian sausage. Top it with grated parmigiano and see if you manage not to have second helpings! Pumpkins in Campo de' Fiori, Roma (Salvatore Freni Jr/flickr)
Mushrooms are a symbol of the Fall and plenty of typically autumnal recipes call for their presence. One of the most common ways to enjoy them is in sauces, which can be used to dress anything you fancy, really: frome homemade pastas, to heart-warming polenta, from potato gnocchi to a simple slice of warm bread, wild mushroom sauces are always delicious. Before starting chopping and frying, there are two considerations to make: the first concerns the sauce recipe itself, the other the type of mushrooms you can use to prepare it. Wild mushroom sauces come in two variations: one with and one without tomatoes. The one you are about to read includes them, but they are not always compulsory. Many use stock instead of tomatoes, or even cream, although this latter variation does not rank high on my personal list of favorites. It really depends on you. What mushrooms you choose to make your sauce is a whole different thing: if you want a truly scrumptious, flavorsome sauce, stay away from button or portobello mushrooms (unless you are totally stuck: more about it below), as they are not strong enough to deliver that "mushroomy" punch you expect from a sauce like that: invest in wild mushrooms. Porcini of course are king, but golden chanterelles, sanguinelli and honey mushrooms are nice, too. Dried mushrooms are important, too, because they are used to make the broth you are going to dilute your sauce with: these are usually easier to come by in stores than fresh ones, as they are available pretty much all year round and a bit in every supermarket. A little tip: when I used to live in Ireland, finding porcini was not easy and even when you could they were ridiculously expensive. If I wanted to make a good mushroom sauce, I would get good quality dried mushrooms and some button or portobello and make the sauce like that. Of course, it will not be the same as having a real porcini sauce, but if you use more dried mushrooms, your sauce will taste nice. Another alternative is to use only dried mushrooms and add ground beef or sausage meat, hence turning your mushroom sauce into a mushroom and meat sauce. There are plenty of solutions, as you can see, all appliable to the basic recipe you are about to learn. Ready to cook?
Francesco's gentle, velvety carrot soup is given a touch of festive Venetian froth with a last minute splash of prosecco, the dry sparkling wine of the Veneto. "The minute you taste prosecco, you have Venice in your mouth," Francesco likes to say.
Fennel, with its tantalizing anise flavor, is the basis for this smooth, elegant vegetable puree. So intrigued was Henry Wotten, England's ambassador to Venice in the 17th century, that he sent seeds to King Jame's gardener, with the instructions on how they should be planted and the vegetable prepared. This soup is given a luxurious touch with the addition of lobster. "In Venice we would probably use scampi, but those are very difficult to find in America," Francesco says. "Besides, the lobsters here are wonderful, so this adaptation makes sense." At Remi, Francesco might replace the lobster with a dollop of creme fraiche topped with good sturgeon caviar, a special occasion touch that would not be out of place for a gala dinner at home.
"In Venice we have big soups, simple soups," Francesco says. "This is a good example." But he adds that when it's served at Remi, it is sometimes garnished with creme fraiche and caviar, for a lavish touch befitting the Venetian taste for luxury. At one time there were sturgeon in the Venetian lagoon, providing the city with its own supply of caviar. For a more humble Venetian garnish, some rounds of bread fried in butter or olive oil will do nicely.
"Fish and seafood are so important in Venice," says Francesco, "that when making fish stews and risottos with fish, we prefer a fish stock. For shrimp, lobster, and crabs a shellfish stocks is better." None are complicated to prepare.
This is the richest of the basic stocks in Francesco's repertory. Built on a base of fish stock, it makes a delicious risotto and a wonderful seafood stew. "The aroma makes me think of Venice and the Rialto market, where so much comes from the sea," he says. Obtaining the lobster heads and shells may require giving your fish market some advance notice. Otherwise buy whole lobsters with the intention of using the meat in another recipe.
At Remi this vegetable stock is used as a base for many of the risottos, especially the ones made without meat or fish. "we have many people coming into the restaurant who are vegetarians," Francesco explains, "and we want to be able to accommodate them. When it's well made, a vegetable stock is full of flavor."
The pairing of creamy polenta with a ragout of earthy wild mushrooms has to be one of the glories of northern Italian cooking. Mid-autumn when a profusion of wild mushrooms begin to appear in the Rialto market, is the best time to prepare this dish in Venice. "Now you have all these mushrooms all the time in America," Francesco says. So he's happy to be able to prepare polenta with wild (or exotic) mushrooms any time.
Americans think of squid and its ink as the essential ingredients to make the black sauce that is served in Venice with polenta, risotto, or pasta. But Francesco points out that the sea creature with the most ink is the cuttlefish, which is a little larger than squid. Many fish markets sell cleaned squid; some sell cuttlefish. If cuttlefish is not available squid can be substituted. Lately, some specialty food stores have started carrying little packets of cuttlefish ink to use for making these recipes. "I don't entirely trust them," Francesco says. "I'm not sure what they have put in those packets."