For sure you love pasta, you love pizza, you love gelato, and that is why you say you are a lover of Italian cuisine. If you really are a fan of the delicious dishes that beautiful Italy has to offer, you have probably tried risotto, or at least you have heard of it. However, if you have not yet, you should read on, for here we will tell you the basics you need to know about this Italian-style way of cooking rice.
From Northern Italy
Risotto—from the Italian word riso, meaning ‘rice’—is rice cooked in the style of northwestern Italy. We refer more precisely to the Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Verona, traditional rice-growing areas in that country.
The most characteristic feature of risotto is its creamy texture, due to the varieties of grains used, which must be rich in starch and pectin. For this reason, the most appropriate varieties are those with medium-size to short grains. The most traditionally used is Arborio rice, named after the town from which it originates. Many people think that Arborio is derived from Japanese rice, used to make sushi.
As with any dish of any national or international cuisine, the most important thing, besides following the correct recipe, is to use the best-quality ingredients. You can find excellent quality Arborio rice at riceselect.com/product/arborio.
The basic ingredients for cooking risotto
Risotto has many variations. However, they all have two things in common: the basic ingredients and the traditional way in which it is cooked.
The basic ingredients for cooking risotto are as follows:
• Rice—of course. (As mentioned above, the Arborio variety is traditionally used, but others such as Bardo, Carnarolli and Maratelli, also known for producing creamy rice, can be used.)
• Chicken broth, often mixed with vegetable stock.
• Olive oil.
• Chopped onion.
• White wine.
• Salted butter.
• Grated Parmesan cheese.
How to cook risotto in the traditional style
This is the traditional way to cook risotto:
In a saucepan over low heat, sauté the rice with the olive oil—about two tablespoons per cup of rice—, the chopped onion—about three tablespoons per cup of rice—, and the white wine. Then stir the mixture until the grains absorb the wine.
Attention: The rice grains should not be rinsed beforehand, so that they do not lose the starch, which will be necessary to make the dish creamy.
Once the grains are sautéed, increase the heat to medium and add the broth gradually—approximately two cups of broth for each cup of rice—, while whisking the mixture constantly. The whisking helps the starch and pectin to undergo the action of heat uniformly and helps give the grains the creamy texture characteristic of risotto.
When the broth is finished, turn off the heat, and while the grains are still warm, add the butter—about two tablespoons per cup of rice—and the grated Parmesan cheese—about four tablespoons per cup of rice—, while whisking until the rice grains clearly get a creamy texture.
Now you have your basic risotto, which you can use to mix with other ingredients or to accompany a main course. You can also serve it as a starter dish.
As you have seen, cooking risotto requires a little more work than making plain white rice, but the result is worth it.
The risotto family
In fact, risotto is not a single dish, but a whole family of dishes that can contain many different ingredients. Among the best-known members of this big family are the following:
• Risotto ai quatri formaggi: with four different Italian cheeses.
• Risotto alla caprese: with mozzarella cheese, tomato, and basil.
• Risotto ai funghi: with mushrooms cooked in white wine.
• Risotto alla salsiccia: with Italian sausage and vegetables.
• Risotto ai frutti di mare: with seafood cooked in white wine.
• Risotto agli spinaci: with spinach and cheese.
• Risotto agli asparagi: with asparagus cooked in butter.
• Risotto alla milanese: seasoned with saffron and perfect to accompany a main course of stewed or grilled meat.
Of course, the choice of the recipe and the discovery of new flavors will depend on the knowledge, will and imagination of the cook, and on the approval of the diners.