Rice is the principal food for about half of the world’s population. Native to areas in India and China it found its way from Asia to Europe via Persia, where the Arabs learned to grow and cook it. TheMoors grew large quantities in Spain then later in Sicily. The valley of the Po River and the Lombardy plain in northern Italy, home of risotto, first produced rice in the 15th century. The Spanish and Portuguese introduced it to the Americas – South Carolina was the first commercial American planting.
Rice is the main ingredient of many traditional food cultures around the globe. Risotto stands out, for it’s unique preparation technique and represent’s Italy’s gastronomic tradition. Originally from northern Italy, in particular from the regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Piemonte. In each area it is prepared with different ingredients and slight variations. It is considered a ‘primo’ like pasta, served before the ‘secondo’ main dish. It’s a fantastic recipe to use year round, changing the main ingredient according to seasonality: artichoke, asparagus, tomato, pumpkin, truffle..
It may seem like a simple recipe, but there are some fundamental rules to follow in order to cook it with success.
Rice – Pick a rice with the right level of starch to obtain the perfect creamy texture. Risotto is made with specific medium-grain varieties that are fairly large and can tolerate this technique cooking method, which abrades and removes starch from the rice surface so that it can thicken the cooking liquid to a creamy consistency. The main varieties are: arborio, baldo, carnaroli, maratelli, rosa marchetti, sant’andrea and vialone nano.
Timing – It must be made to order, reheating a risotto will kill its texture and creaminess.
Pot – The best material to cook risotto in is copper, being a great heat conductor it will cook the rice homogeneously. Anyhow copper pots can be very expensive so cast iron is a great alternative. The pot should be low.
Soffritto – Start off with the soffritto, the pan and the vegetables must be cold when you start, no boiling hot oil or butter, it must be a gentle and slow step, ir else you will taste those burnt veggies in the final dish.
Toasting – A fundamental step, this is what makes risotto different from a boiled rice. It will give it the right texture, helping the grains stay intact, and will help with the release of starch throughout the cooking. There are many different positions on how it is done, with or without a soffritto, with or ur without a fat.. it seems like every chef in Italy likes to have their own special take on risotto, the magic trick. We suggest to add some butter or EVOO to the soffritto, bring the flame up and add the rice. Stir well, until the rice starts to look slightly translucent and dry. The process should take between 3 to 5 minutes.
Alcohol – Once the rice is toasted, add white wine (unless making a red wine risotto), it is good for the wine to be cold, fridge temperature, this way it will block the toasting process. You can actually use any kind of alcohol, as this is what we are looking for to help degrease the grains, that need to absorb the liquid in the following steps. Depending on what risotto you are making it can be fun to experiment with bourbon, sake, you name it.
Broth – as mentioned above the rice cooks through absorption of a liquid, so the liquid you use will give the flavour to your dish. Making risotto with water is not a good idea. The broth you use will also color the dish, so keep that in mind. And it should be added hot, if not the temperature of the pot will keep dropping and will not cook right. Also throughout the cooking time make sure to keep all the rice submerged in liquid.
Mantecatura (creaming) – once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off, add a nob of butter and some parmigiano reggiano cheese (depending on recipe ingredients vary). Mix well and then let rest covered for a few minutes before serving.
Check out our older post for the perfect recipe HERE.