When you think of Italian food, we are sure that you will think immediately of Pizza and pasta. However, Italian Restaurants’ majorities will have on their Menu a surprising variety of rice or better “risotto.”
Italy produces 1,6 million tons of rice every year, therefore is the top producer in Europe.
So how did rice end up on the Italian tables?
Chinese domesticated rice about 8000 years ago, but it was only in 320 BC that Alexander the Great introduced it to the Greeks on returning from the Asia expeditions.
Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, rice was considered very precious and used only as a medicine to settle upset stomachs.
The Arabs then introduced it to Spain in the Thirteen centuries, but it reached Italy only in the Sixteen century. Rice landed first in the Kingdom of Naples and then in the river Po’s plain, where the crop became definitively established.
The fertile swampy plains in the Po Valley, covering the Regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto, were soon homes to a new variety of rice still available today, such as Carnaroli, Arborio, Roma, Sant’Andrea, Baldo, and Vialone Nano.
Each variety can be processed to become white, brown, or parboiled rice.
Risotto is not simply boiled rice to accompany your vegetable or your meat and fish dish. Risotto is the loving process of toasting your rice and adding broth and other ingredients until you reach a unique creamy consistency.
First of all, you need to pick the correct variety, the Italian ones such as Carnaroli, Arborio or Vialone Nano. Their grain is plump and starchy, hence perfect to deliver the creaminess of an impeccable risotto. Do not rinse it as the water will wash away the starch that keeps the grain firm without overcooking.
Whatever you choose to make your risotto with, you will always need the following ingredients:
Extra virgin Olive oil, butter, white wine, and a good broth.
Step 1: make a nice and light soffritto with a thinly sliced onion, and then pour your rice for a light “tostatura” (toasting). Just a few minutes on low heat will be enough. Step 2: Depending on the recipe you are following, either add in gently the needed quantity of broth or a splash of wine. You do not need to stir it very often as the starch will work better its magic when left untouched.
Step 3: Let it cooked the right time. Unless you use wholegrain, it will be done in under 20 minutes.
Step 4: The Mantecatura: although it sounds complicated, this last step merely means adding butter and parmesan to your risotto to reach that final unique creaminess
Step 5: Serve with an extra sprinkle of shaved parmesan, and enjoy!
10 recipes for amazing Risotto
“Rice is born in water and dies in wine” (Lombardy saying)
If you wonder why there is such a saying in Italy, you will understand with one of the top risotto’s recipes.
However, most recipes always have a splash of white wine to enrich the final result.
Risotto al Barolo
Barolo is a typical wine from Piedmont (which, by the way, you can try from our Wine Menu). Only the best quality rice will be cooked in this extraordinary wine, turning the risotto in an exquisite rich red plate.
Risotto allo Zafferano
Typical of the Region of Lombardia. In particular to the city of Milan, where allegedly it was created. It was 1574 when the glassmaker Valerio de Flanders, obsessed with Saffron, decided to use it in rice as a joke. However, the yellow risotto turned out to be a great success from the very first moment.
Risotto radicchio e speck
The bitterness of radicchio meets the smokey flavor of Speck, a typical cured meat from Trentino.
Risi e Bisi
Or simply Rice and Peas! A traditional dish from the Veneto region: peas have to be fresh to give the risotto full flavor. Fresh Pancetta is often added to the mix for extra tastiness.
Risotto al Pomodoro
A very simple version of risotto with tomato sauce. A beautiful reminder of those long summer days, where tomatoes were ripening under the hot sun.
Risotto alla pescatora
Seafood rice, a typical dish from our beloved region of Campania. The rice is slowly cooked in fish broth, and then seafood will be added: the best of the Mediterranean Sea on a plate!
Risotto al nero di seppia
Another specialty from the Veneto region, it is made with cuttlefish cooked with their ink-sacs intact, leaving the risotto black.
Risotto agli asparagi
A spring favorite. Asparagus season starts in early spring, and it is very short, so you better take advantage when it comes. This unusual vegetable has a robust earthy flavor, and it is combined with white wine and parmesan.
Risotto ai funghi
Another unmissable dish as Fall approaches, especially in Northern Italy. The texture of the mushroom will just add even more creaminess to the risotto. If you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you will be lucky to have some shaved truffle as an extra topping. But remember, truffles are sold by weight, so be sure to ask for the price first!
Risotto al Castelmagno e noci
Back to the Region of Piedmont where the cheese of Castelmagno is DOP. The risotto is amazing only with the Cheese, but pears or nuts are often added for an extra twist.
So now that you know the secrets of an outstanding risotto, all you need is to get the correct main ingredients and unleash your fantasy with the vegetables available now.
Let us know in the comments how you prepared yours!