Risotto is one of the dishes that is the most representative worldwide of the flavour and creativity that mark Italian cuisine. The wide range of recipes used to prepare it in the restaurants of star-winning chefs as well as at home are all based on a technique that must be followed if you want to achieve successful results.
Derived from the worldwide practice of using the antiseptic properties of the onion, the soffritto technique has become the first, essential step that gives a risotto its unique flavour. The finely chopped onion should be slowly sautéed in melted butter for at least ten minutes over a low heat (“over a candle flame” as the old cooking maestros used to say) by stirring with a wooden spoon and adding a tablespoon of water, if necessary, to stop it from burning. Other aromatic ingredients such as garlic, celery, and carrot may be added to the soffritto.
To obtain rice that is perfectly “al dente”, it must be lightly toasted to seal the grains of rice and close the pores.
When the soffritto is ready, turn up the heat, pour the rice into the saucepan and stir continuously using the all-essential wooden spoon. When the rice begins to stick lightly to the pan, add some white wine to give the rice a slight hint of acidity as it evaporates and give the risotto its distinctive flavour.
When the wine has evaporated, lower the heat and add the first ladle of stock.
The stock should not be added all at once but, as the maestros of cooking used to say “when the rice needs it,” i.e. when there is not much liquid left in the grains.
Risotto requires a lot of attention: it requires constant stirring so that the starch that is released does not make the grains stick together and it will be your instinct or the precision of the recipe you are following that decides exactly when to add the other ingredients. In the same way, you will be the one to decide when the risotto is cooked regardless of the instructions on the packet. Normally, depending on the variety of rice used, you will need 15 to 20 minutes.
Even if the name comes from the Spanish term for butter, “manteca”, this stage indicates the need to add the right amount of fat to the cooked rice that will give it its distinctive shininess, correct flavour and, in the words of the experts, “wave-like” consistency.
In some recipes, Parmesan or other cheeses should be added along with the butter, some require oil and some that have a more exotic flavour perhaps require low fat yoghurt: whatever the case, the covered risotto should be left to rest after adding the necessary fat and stirring it thoroughly.
WHAT RICE SHOULD YOU USE?
Even if recently more exotic varieties of rice such as black Venus rice have been used to make risotto, great traditional Italian risottos normally use three specific varieties of great white rices.
RISERVA GALLO ARBORIO: derived from the older Vialone variety in circa 1946, the heat gently penetrates its long grains during cooking preserving the right amount of starch inside to remain “al dente” yet giving creaminess, which is needed to make it perfectly smooth.
RISERVA GALLO CARNAROLI: this variety has also been obtained from a series of crosses in 1945 and since then it has quickly become a favourite of Italians who love risotto because of its amazing ability to maintain its shape and flavour, and to blend perfectly with all types of ingredients.
RISERVA GALLO VIALONE NANO: the head of this family of rices which are ideal for making risottos has its gastronomic roots in the Veneto and Mantua areas. Its chunky grains absorb the ingredients perfectly and guarantee an excellent cooking performance.
SAUCEPAN FOR RISOTTO:
A deep, wide saucepan is ideal for cooking risotto. If not available, a frying pan can be used which gives it name to the Spanish dish featuring rice: paella. We do not recommend non-stick pans because they are not suitable for toasting the rice. Unfortunately, you will just have to be careful that the grains do not stick to the bottom of the pan. More demanding cooks say that risotto should be made in a copper saucepan.
Wooden spoons are often used for cooking because the material they are made of does not have any effect on the temperature of the food they come into contact with (unlike metal spoons, for example). They are ideal for stirring risotto because they do not break the grains and treat them delicately: for this reason, some people use a special wooden spoon with a hole in the centre.