How to Make a Great Basic Risotto
The history of Risotto more than likely parallels the influence of the Arabs, who introduced rice to Italy and Spain during the Middle Ages. The high humidity in the Mediterranean basin suited the growing of shorter grain rices, with a booming rice industry having its roots in the north from Genoa and Venice. These types of rice varieties became the basis for both paella in Spain and risotto on the Italian peninsula.
Risotto, when prepared correctly, is a simple dish with complex flavors built up during a specific, slow cooking of the rice and ingredients. In its simplest form, the ingredients are arborio or carnaroli rice (the most popular types), butter (or olive oil), onions (or shallots), grated Parmigiano Reggiano and white wine. There are literally hundreds of other ingredients and variations that encompass the world of risotto, with varied spices (saffron being a favorite) and proteins complimenting the dish.
The method of slow cooking and stirring tends to gelatinize while being stirred, which helps give risotto it's memorable creamy texture.
There are also other rice types well-suited for making risotto: Baldo, Maratelli , Rosa Marchetti , Sant'Andrea and Vialone. The basic technique is to first roast the rice in a bit of fat until it looks translucent, adding wine to deglaze, then adding preheated broth a little at a time while stirring constantly throughout the cooking. Other ingredients, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, and butter are added at the end. Patience is key in making a great risotto at home. The rice needs to feel creamy on the tongue (never mushy) while still being a bit al dente. I could take an hour or more to nurse the risotto into full fruition. There are some tricks for making risotto faster, as restaurant kitchens do, but I won't get into that here. Making risotto at home is an act of love...
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice (Click the photo, the see on Amazon)
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 medium sweet onion (or half a large Vidalia)-diced finely
1 cup dry white wine (Frascati or Pinot Grigio, or one of your choice)
6 cups of chick or vegetable broth, heated in a saucepan (for ladling into the rice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (plus additional for topping off the dish)
Toward the end, you will notice the starch in the rice being released to make a creamy consistency. Occasionally, taste the rice to make sure it is cooked through while still having a little bit of "tooth". You do not want it mushy, but you don't want crunch on individual grains. You will also know when the rice is nearing completion when you experience a sort of "wave" when you stir the rice, making a circular motion with the flat edge of your spoon around the bottom of the pan. Italian chef's call this the all'onda (wavy) effect. When your spoon passes through the rice, and it leaves behind a silky wave that slowly fills in the wake of your spoon, the risotto is at the right texture.
This is an all around recipe that can be varied and added to as you like. I'd suggest practicing this recipe a few times until you consider yourself an expert at making it. After that you can experiment or try your own variations of other recipes you find online. Try a seafood variation by adding shrimp, fish stock and lemon. Or... Roast pumpkin and asparagus (folded in at the end); tomato, basil and pignoli; smoked chicken and eggplant; or classic Milanese style with saffron and peas.
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