The Art of risotto

While the beloved Ital­ian dish con­tains only five ba­sic in­gre­di­ents, the vari­a­tions are end­less. Read on for some culi­nary history, the low-down on rice and two de­li­cious recipes

Food and Travel (UK) - - The Art Of Risotto - 300g ap­prox. left­over risotto 3 eggs, beaten 100g bread­crumbs 10g plain flour

In Italy, risotto is a very per­sonal thing. Each re­gion has its own re­la­tion­ship with the short-grained rice, but it be­gan in the south, when the Moors landed in Si­cily in the 14th cen­tury, bring­ing vats of ar­bo­rio with them. From here, it spread to Naples, on to Mi­lan and up­wards to the Po Valley in the far north, where it found per­fect grow­ing con­di­tions: flat ter­rain, plenty of wa­ter and high hu­mid­ity.

Folk­lore sur­rounds risotto’s in­cep­tion, with the first dish be­lieved to have em­anated from Mi­lan. In 1574, a crafts­man per­fect­ing an amber-coloured stained-glass win­dow at the city’s Duomo cathe­dral de­cided that his daugh­ter’s wed­ding feast should con­tain a colour that duly re­flected the set­ting. Risotto Mi­lanese (risotto flavoured and coloured with saf­fron) was born and the recipe tran­scribed.

While there are nu­mer­ous types of risotto, all con­tain five base in­gre­di­ents: rice, but­ter, onion, wine and stock. Onion is soft­ened, be­fore rice is added and each grain coated in a film of fat (a process called tostatura), fol­lowed by wine and grad­ual la­dles of stock as the rice ab­sorbs the wa­ter and re­leases its starchy pay­load. It’s then taken off the heat for man­te­catura, where cold but­ter is added to fur­ther en­rich it – and served as primi course or part of a main meal.

GO WITH THE GRAIN

There are four main types of risotto rice to play with. Ex­per­i­ment and find which works for you and the dish you’re cooking. All are read­ily avail­able to buy here in the UK

Ar­bo­rio The most widely avail­able risotto rice, ar­bo­rio is gen­er­ally wider and longer than carnaroli or vialone nano. It is less starchy and takes longer to ab­sorb the wine and stock.

Baldo A rel­a­tively new va­ri­ety to come to mar­ket, baldo is com­pa­ra­ble to ar­bo­rio in its grain size and the starch it pro­vides. It is the quick­est cooking of the risotto rices and used in restau­rants. Carnaroli Hailed as the king of rice, carnaroli is the risotto rice of choice in most re­gions of Italy, ex­cept the Veneto. It pro­duces the creami­est risotto and is harder to over­cook than ar­bo­rio.

Vialone nano Used in the Veneto re­gion, vialone nano can ab­sorb twice its weight in liq­uid. With a starch con­tent al­most as high as the carnaroli va­ri­etal, it cre­ates an ex­tremely creamy risotto, though takes slightly longer to cook.

A clas­sic mush­room risotto

SERVES 4 20g dried porcini mush­rooms

750ml good-qual­ity chicken or veg­etable stock

3tbsp but­ter

2 shal­lots, finely chopped 300g risotto rice

125ml dry white wine

1tbsp ex­tra vir­gin olive oil 250g wild or cul­ti­vated mush­rooms such as pied bleu, hon-shimeji, chanterelles and oys­ter mush­rooms (pleu­rottes)

1tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus ex­tra to serve 2tbsp Ital­ian hard cheese, grated, plus ex­tra to serve Soak the dried porcini in 250ml boil­ing wa­ter for half an hour then drain them, re­serv­ing the wa­ter. Squeeze them dry. Strain the mush­room wa­ter, leav­ing be­hind any sed­i­ment. Add the mush­room wa­ter to the chicken stock and bring the whole lot to a gen­tle sim­mer in a saucepan. Melt 2tbsp but­ter in a large deep fry­ing pan or shal­low saucepan and add the shal­lots. Cook for 1 minute. Add the risotto rice and soaked mush­rooms and stir un­til the rice grains are coated in but­ter. Add the white wine, al­low­ing the risotto to bub­ble un­til the wine is ab­sorbed. Once the wine has al­most gone, add stock a ladle­ful at a time to the risotto, stir­ring in­ter­mit­tently un­til each batch has been ab­sorbed. Heat the olive oil and briefly sauté the fresh mush­rooms so that they are cooked through but still hold their shape. Keep them warm while you fin­ish the risotto. Once all the stock has been added, sea­son well and add the parsley and the cheese. Stir briskly, re­move from the heat, add 1tbsp but­ter and leave to stand cov­ered for 3mins. Stir, gar­nish with parsley, sprin­kle with cheese, and serve.

Arancini

Arancini is ar­guably the dish most em­blem­atic of Ital­ian cui­sine. Gen­er­ally made from yes­ter­day’s left­over risotto, it al­lows no waste and stretches the pre­vi­ous day’s in­gre­di­ents into the next. It’s gen­er­ally served on its own as a light lunch, but can eas­ily be turned into a sub­stan­tial sup­per with the ad­di­tion of a salad and sharp vinai­grette dress­ing.

Start by rolling the risotto into golf ball-sized spheres by work­ing them around in your hands. Once you have rolled the balls, pre­heat your deep-fat fryer (or pan of oil) to around 180C/350F. Cover the balls in flour, then dip them into the beaten egg and coat in the bread­crumbs. Do this with one hand, keep­ing the other clean for ad­just­ing the fryer. Cook the arancini un­til golden (around 5 min­utes). Drain and serve.

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