Cremini Mushroom and Spinach Risotto

Buckley chawed on the grass with his iron jaws and stared out into the distance with his old cantankerous eyes. The warm, salty air blew across his ashen fur and across the meadow; it blew through the spiny fingers of the red pine trees that were scattered sparingly across the field. The wind caused the waves to crash onto the rocky shore. Buckley watched as he stood by Gaffer’s neglected fishing shed.

Cremini mushroom and spinach risotto in acorn squash bowls

Buckley’s dark, black hooves stood in sharp contrast to his fluffy coat as he chomped on one of the few remaining patches of grass. Next to the buck, in the chartreuse grass, stood a single dandelion that waved in the wind. Buckley stared at it with awe; he was perplexed. He had never seen such a beautiful flower before. Its emerald stem was blessed with the task of supporting the petals. Buckley wished that he, like the stem, had the chance to support something so wonderful. Its golden petals looked magical in the summer sun.

What made the flower so special to the old buck though was her independence. She stood unaccompanied during the cold nights and had to protect herself. She did what she wanted whenever she wanted. She was a free soul.

“Baaaaa,” bleated Buckley at the yellow gem in front of him. He waited for a response. “Baaaaaa,” he repeated, clearer this time. Again, he spoke, enunciating his syllables: “I love you.” He hoofed the ground and stared at his love. Could she not understand him? Buckley tried reciting poems that he had written, but no matter what he did he failed to get a reply. Drops of salt water fell from his hazel eyes, dampening his fur, onto the dandelion, and eventually into the cold sea.

The flower waved in the wind as Buckley pondered that he might be forever alone. He was already eight; he had only a few years left in his life and he knew it. He was too old to care for kids. It was for the better, he reasoned.

A forkful of mushroom and spinach risotto

The old goat flared his nostrils as he snatched the dandelion from the soil and tried to place it behind one of his pink ears. She fell gracefully from behind the buck’s ear, her fall softened by the patch of grass below her. The sound that she made when she hit the ground was deafening for the goat: he had dropped his only love. He gently picked her up by the stem and placed her yet again behind his ear. He jerked his head to the side to make sure that she wouldn’t fall from his ears ever again. The yellow of the dandelion complimented his pale fur and the smirk between his hazel eyes.

Buckley galloped across the red soil praying for more grass to eat. Grass was hard to find. Strange animals had come earlier and ate almost everything. Fields of green had transformed into fields of brown.

“There are odd animals here that speak strangely,” Buckley tried to explain to his dandelion, “and they eat so much.” Buckley knew that she had seen little from where she grew up. Food was scarce and Buckley often had to spend hours looking for another patch of grass to eat.

Buckley flared his nostrils, ran up to a spot of green a few metres away from him, and snatched up a gobful of grass. He was content.

As he ate, however, he conspicuously eyed an approaching buck. The brown-furred beast towered over Buckley. His fur was a dark shade of hazel and white streaks ran through his coat. His pointed ears stretched backward from his head that was adorned with eyes as black as thunder. His horns curled away from his skull and towards his lengthy ears.

“Moove asides olde goate,” the creature roared through his thick accent. His accent appeared to Buckley to be Swedish – no, Spanish. The creature snorted as he pushed Buckley aside. He picked up a mouthful of grass and chewed on it violently, oblivious to the buck at his side.

“Find your own fare,” pleaded Buckley, scared to fight a fiend twice his size. “We have spent hours praying, wandering, and searching for nourishment; let us be,” begged the hungry buck.

The monster that towered over him grabbed another clump of grass and continued to chew as he watched the waves in front of him strike the shore.

Cremini mushroom and spinach risotto in squash bowls

“If you go back to where you came from we can all have enough,” reasoned Buckley, “there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Buckley took a step back, realizing he was responsible for protecting his love from any harm.

“Feable goatz, I aesk you thas: where doesss,” the strong buck hissed, “the lihne between need and greed ayxist?” The buck reached with his coal-coloured lips towards Buckley and his flower. He snatched Buckley’s love. He chawed on the flower with his iron jaws and stared out into the distance.

Cremini Mushroom and Spinach Risotto
Cremini mushroom and spinach risotto served with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and flat-leaf parsley in acorn squash bowls. Adapted from Julie at A Mingling of Tastes.
For the risotto:
  • 2½ tbs. olive oil, divided
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme or rosemary
  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced and cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 4½ cups (1125ml) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tbs. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 large shallot, chopped (or 1 small onion)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1¼ cups (240g) Arborio rice
  • ½ cup (125ml) dry white wine
  • 6 to 8 oz. spinach leaves
  • ½ cup (125ml) parmigiano-reggiano
  • Fresh thyme leaves and/or chopped parsley (optional)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
Prepare the acorn squash bowls:
  1. Wash the acorn squash and then cut off about 3mm off the bottom of each squash so that they don't roll around on the table. Then, use a small knife to cut a "lid" in the top of each squash by holding the knife at a 45 degree angle to the top of squash and cutting in a circle. Use a spoon to take out all the seeds and the pith (the stringy bits). Cut off the bottom part of the lid to get rid of the pith. Put the lid back on and bake for 30 minutes at 400°F.
Prepare the risotto:
  1. Meanwhile, heat ½ tbs. olive oil and ½ tbs. butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until their water nearly evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until tender, about 3 more minutes. Set aside. Heat the chicken broth (it does not have to boil) in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat. In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and ½ tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until all the grains are slick and slightly opaque. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely absorbed. Add two ladles full of broth to the risotto and bring to a simmer. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Keep the risotto at a steady simmer, stirring continuously until the broth has evaporated almost completely. Add one ladle full of broth, stir until it is nearly evaporated, then add another ladle full. Continue simmering and stirring, adding broth as necessary, for about 22-24 minutes or until the rice is creamy and cooked through, but still firm to the bite. When the risotto is on its last ladle full of broth, add the spinach (I try to use as much as I can fit, but use the amount that looks right to you, remembering that the volume reduces considerably.). Stir until spinach is just wilted. Add the mushrooms. Take off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and stir. Serve immediately by spooning into the acorn squash bowls and adding the fresh herbs if using, passing Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste. You may not use all the broth. If you run out of broth, just use hot water to finish the risotto. It’s not absolutely necessary to stir for 22 minutes straight, but you don’t want to put down your spoon for too long or leave the risotto unattended and risk scorching.


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