personal comfort food #3

comfort for hallgrímur
& cows 

mushroom risotto with asparagus and parmesan ‘cheese’

Hallgrímur / 49

enjoys cooking:
“2/5 (unless it’s for special social events: 5/5) ”
preferred textures/flavour:
“Most importantly variety in food between days. I like pasta with tomato-based sauce”
diet in three words:
“fish / salad /variation”
ultimate comfort food:
“mushroom risotto with panfried asparagus and parmesan cheese”
why this meal:
“It’s so delicious, it’s indulgent, and it is a social meal that I cook and eat with other people! It also provides some warming physical comfort, especially when eaten in winter.  ”
essential elements of the meal:
“Using proper risotto rice, butter, garlic, mushrooms both dried and fresh. Dry white wine for the risotto and for drinking on the side, and very importantly the asparagus, that needs to be fried in butter and garlic and placed on top in the end!”


A co-designed recipe with Hallgrímur (my dad), showing care through a compassionate act of cooking together, forming a new version of mushroom risotto, with dairy free, comfort-for-all ingredients

Establishing the essential comfort elements of the meal, and letting this guide us in the process. We had to cook apart with digital tools, due to us being in different countries. The goal was to recreate the feeling of comfort in cooking and eating the meal, minimizing harm to the planet and it’s beings in the process.


/ risotto:
- 400g risotto rice (arborio or other short grain rice)
- 1 L veggie or mushroom stock
- 10 g dried wild mushrooms (in 350ml hot water)
- 200-300g fresh mushrooms: any kind you like!   
- 1 white/yellow onion
- 4 big cloves of garlic.
- 175 ml dry white wine
- vegan butter & olive oil
- nutritional yeast
- salt & pepper
/ asparagus:
- 1 bundle fresh green asparagus
- 2 cloves garlic
- vegan butter & olive oil
/ cashew parm:
- 50g roasted cashews
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- salt to taste

U: Ok I think the first step is to soak the dried mushrooms. H: Yes, I am using dried Icelandic larch mushrooms and fresh chestnut mushrooms! U: Ok I have some dried Swedish porcini mushrooms and fresh portobello and button mushrooms.”


Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, then add the broth to the rest of the veggie stock and chop up the now hydrated mushrooms.

Keep the stock in a pot on a low heat, ready to be used in the risotto. If you add cold stock to the risotto you will really slow down the process.

H: Ok so usually I would add the rice in with the onions and let it fry for a while in the oil, but now I got ahead of myself and put the mushrooms in.. U: Oh, well I guess it doesn’t really matter, now we can at least get some colour on the mushrooms before we add the rice!
Cut the onion in small pieces and chop the garlic finely, warm up some olive oil in the pot on medium heat. The pot has to be pretty big and it is best to use a pot with a heavy base! When the oil is hot throw in the onion and then the garlic.

H: ok so I bought this Naturli brand - vegan butter, how is it compared to regular butter? How much should I put of the butter and the olive oil? U: I think this butter is very similar to regular butter, so you should just use it exaxtly the same way as you would with the other one! I guess it’s nice to just use a mix of butter and olive oil, right? H: Yes that sounds good!
Add the mushrooms to the pot with a bit of vegan butter and let them get some colour before you add the rice to the pot. When the rice has been fried for a little while we can add the glass of white wine and let it deglaze the pot. Turn the heat down to medium low and let simmer.  

“H: I think it’s time for a wine break! U: Yes, that sounds good! H: Also one thing I find very important when making risotto is using a wooden spoon for stirring! It doesn’t matter what kind of pot you use, but you have to use a wooden utensil for stirring! U: Yes, exactly, and it needs to be a hardy spoon, because you need to be stirring a lot!” 
When the white wine is evaporated, add one big ladle of the warmed up mushroom/veggie stock. Now the rule is to add one ladle of stock at a time, whenever the risotto starts getting a bit dry. Keep the pot on medium-low heat and let the risotto simmer while constantly stirring. By stirring the rice vigorously in the beginning of the process the rice will release it’s starches and make the risotto nice and creamy!


“U: Now the chair in the kitchen comes in really handy so you can sit down and have a break while stirring! - Super comfortable!” 

“U: Do you remember the first time you had risotto? H: Yes, you were there, maybe sometime in 2002! It was when we were living in Denmark and we were invited over to our friends’ house for dinner. Then a couple of weeks later I tried cooking risotto for the first time myself! Since then I have been making it regularly! U: Ok, I don’t really remember that dinner. I guess at this time risotto wasn’t a very popular dish back home in Iceland? H: No, I had never heard about it before, I mean of course it is a traditional Italian food, it’s a kind of poor man’s winter food over there! U: right, that is a bit funny because I always see it as a bit of a luxury meal, maybe because you always have a glass of wine on the side.. H: Right, and it takes a bit of effort to make! U: It’s a sort of cheap luxury meal!”

“H: Usually when I cook risotto I make it without any meat, but sometimes when I am making it for a larger group I add some chicken on the side to bulk it up. But I don’t think that is important to the meal at all, usually I just serve it with the asparagus.. Then I always fry it up in a pan with butter and garlic and serve it on the side with the risotto!
U: Right, have you always made the risotto with these ingredients? H: No, I think I tried out a lot of different variations, like with bacon and with squash, before I came to this one, but now this is the only way I make risotto! U: right, this is also the only way I make risotto, as it is one of my nostalgic comfort foods too! H: Yes, I think if you try to take the risotto too far and make it fancy, it loses it’s charm!”
Half way through adding the stock, season the risotto with some black pepper. Wait until the very end to add more salt because the stock is salty as well as the ‘cheese’ you add in the end!
H: It‘s getting there, but it still needs some more time! U: Yes, same for me, you have to be quite patient with this! H: This is like tickling someone very very slowly, you know they are going to feel it in the end but it takes at least half an hour to get there.. U: Haha! H: You don’t want the rice to start laughing right away, then you have ruined the fun of it!”

While you wait for the risotto to finish cooking you can make the cashew parmesan. Put the cashews in the mortar, and grind them down to a coarse powder. Add a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast and a teaspoon of salt. Adjust the amount of salt to taste, if you use unsalted cashews, you might need to add more. You can also use a spice grinder or blender to make this!
“H: I couldn’t find any asparagus in the grocery store, so I bought some zucchini in stead.. U: Ohh no, thats unfortunate, it is such an important part of the meal! H: Yes, but I guess this is a good example of how you need to adjust to what you have.. U: Yes absolutely, and you can of course use any seasonable vegetable you like for this recipe!”

Now prepare your asparagus or your alternative fried veggies for the top of the risotto! Heat up some vegan butter and olive oil in a frying pan on medium high heat, chop the woody ends of the asparagus and throw it in! Slice a couple of cloves of garlic and add it to the pan. Let the asparagus cook until slightly browned on the outside, and soft throughout. Season with salt and pepper.

“H: One thing that I sometimes do with the risotto is that I add some fresh parsley, especially if you can’t get the asparagus! U: Ok, I have parsley in the fridge, I will add some on top.”
When the risotto is almost ready, add a good knob of vegan butter, and a heaping tablespoon of nutritional yeast. Season the Risotto with a good amount of black pepper and add salt if needed. Let the risotto cook until the rice is cooked through but still has some texture to it! 

Plate up the risotto with the asparagus and the cashew parmesan and enjoy!

hallgrímur’s risotto / una’s risotto
“U: So how do you like it?  H: It’s very good, not really any different from the original! U: Ok, is there anything that could be better or different? H: I guess there is some salty flavour you would usually get from the cheese that is not quite there.. but it’s nothing that takes away from the dish, it is really tasty! U: Yeah I can see that, mine is really nice too, I love the asparagus! H: Yes I am a bit jealous of that, the zucchini is not exactly the same!“
“U: Do you think this meal meets the comfort requirement of the original? H: Yes definitely, this does not score any lower than the classic risotto.. U: Right, I think this is also a really easy one to veganize, it is very easy to exchange the butter with vegan butter and although the cheese has a very distinct flavour and texture that is hard to replace, the essence of risotto is maybe not really about the cheese.. H: Yes!” 

“U: Would you like to say anything about how it is to cook like this online and across countries? H: Well for me this is both about cooking with you but more about spending time together, father and daughter, which is extra nice! I think this is the longest consecutive time we have spent together “online” since you moved away from home! U: Yes I have really enjoyed this too! I think cooking is one of these really valuable social interactions we have with family and friends in person, and it can translate quite well to this video-call platform!”
“U: Thank you for wanting to do this with me! H: Of course!”