Risotto is a northern Italian rice dish whose popularity is not confined to Italy only. In fact, this hearty dish took the world by storm and today it is a staple in restaurants and home kitchens alike. The ease of preparation and the versatility of risotto recipes are the two key qualities that make risotto a must in every cook’s repertoire. So, if you want to know a thing or two about its history, the manner of preparation and all the different ingredients you can use to perfect it, read along!
A Little Bit of Risotto History
The history of risotto and the history of rice in Italy are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are very much tied together and date back to the Middle Ages when the Arabs first introduced rice to both Italy and Spain. It was then that each of these two countries became richer for a dish: risotto in Italy, and paella in Spain.
An interesting fact that modern people might find difficult to believe, is that rice came at exorbitant prices when it was first introduced. This all came down to the not so wide accessibility of rice and the wealthy holding all the strings. However, once this grain became popular all over Italy (and later in places with a similarly humid climate as that of the Mediterranean), rice became affordable and it was then that the delicious creamy risotto came to be.
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Milan is the place where everything started. Since Milan was under Spanish rule for almost two centuries, it is only logical that its cuisine was highly influenced by them. This is how one of the very first known risotto recipes, “Risotto alla Milanese” was created. It was originally served as a side dish to Ossobucco, and it included the ingredients that are used to this very day: rice, broth (usually chicken, but also other meat broths, fish, or vegetable ones), butter, onions, wine, parmesan, and saffron.
Rice Varieties for the Best Risotto Recipes
You should opt for the rice types that absorb liquids and release starch, optimally, they should be medium or short grain. The starch in rice is made up of two molecules, amylose, and amylopectin, and it is the ratio of these two that determines the texture of the risotto. For a creamier consistency go for the medium or short grain, since these types of rice are stickier than the long grain ones. For the best results go ahead and use one of these rice varieties:
This is one of the most commonly used rice varieties when it comes to risotto recipes. Although we cannot say it is the BEST choice for risotto, since we chose to present this list in an alphabetical order, and that is how the Arborio variety made its way to the top :). But, to be fair, due to the longer and more transparent grains, this rice is a great fit for risotto recipes.
This is THE variety that will go perfectly well in any risotto recipe. Fittingly called “the king of rices”, it incorporates all of the above-mentioned qualities rice should have to be risotto worthy. It is medium-grained, it has a high starch content, and the high quantities of amylose present within it give it the power to keep its shape during the slow cooking process and make it difficult for this rice to get overcooked. The result? A creamy, luscious risotto!
Much like the carnaroli, this rice variety native to the Asigliano Vercellese province of Vercelli in northern Italy is also rich in amylose. This means that it is also resistant to overcooking, making it a great choice for risotto.
- Vialone Nano
This medium grain rice cultivated in Veneto is also a great choice for risotto recipes. With great absorbing qualities (which means it will absorb the liquids and condiments better), a faster cooking time, (because it is smaller), and the high starch content this rice variety will make for the thickest, richest, creamiest risotto!
One last thing to bear in mind: do NOT rinse the rice! By rinsing it you will reduce the starch content, and the final product won’t be as creamy as a risotto is supposed to be.
The Basic Risotto Do’s and Don’ts
Since one of the best features of this dish is its versatility, we cannot give out all the particularities of all the risotto recipes out there, but what we can do is provide you with some basic Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to preparing risotto in general.
Do – Although it might not seem so, choosing the right pan or pot is crucial for the perfect risotto. Ideally, the container should be about 3 inches tall and very large. As for the material, use either aluminum, copper or stainless steel pans.
Don’t – Avoid using nonstick pans. If you do, you might end up with rice that is not properly toasted, hence, not that good of a risotto. Also, don’t be tempted to use a slanted pan, since the risotto won’t get evenly cooked.
Do – Risotto is an Italian dish, so using olive oil is the best way to go about (the extra virgin variety if possible). However, if you don’t have it at hand, you can always use butter instead. Risotto has to cook at a very low temperature so there is no fear of the olive oil giving off toxic smoke.
Don’t – Although you might think shortening and margarine could work just as fine, they really can’t. Leave these alternatives for other recipes. While at the topic of fat, one thing you should never do is skip the Mantecatura. This process includes adding fat once the dish is off the fire and it ensures a creamier texture.
First off, let us explain what ‘soffritto’ is. Derived from the Italian verb soffriggere, which means to brown or fry slightly, soffritto is just that: a lightly fried mixture of herbs and vegetables.
Do – For meat risottos, use white onion alone. For fish risottos go for shallots, and for a vegetable one go for a mixture of both.
Don’t – If you don’t want the taste of the risotto to get overpowered by the soffritto, don’t use carrot and celery for it. (We emphasize this because soffritto is usually made with these veggies alongside onion)
Do – Use dry white wine.
Don’t – Although the wine doesn’t necessarily have to be of premium quality, it is better to not go for a carton wine.
The Manner of Preparation
Do – Preparing the perfect risotto will require your undivided attention for about 20 minutes, so do add the stock one ladleful at a time. Be careful with how much you are pouring, especially towards the end, since you are aiming at a perfectly cooked and creamy texture.
Don’t – Don’t overmix. Yes, you will need to stir from time to time, but overdoing it might result in a gluey risotto that is not at all attractive. This is so because by stirring you will break the grains, and the rice won’t absorb the liquid properly.
Do – Serve the risotto, ‘all’onda’. This means that to be perfect, your risotto should ‘create a wave’. This means that it should be just the right amount of loose and thick.
Don’t – You might get tempted to pour some more stock, but be careful not to overcook it.
The Best Risotto Recipes
Now that we’ve covered the basics like risotto history and the do’s and don’ts when preparing it, let us focus on the most interesting part: the best risotto recipes!
If you want to start your day out on the right foot, then preparing a delicious risotto is the way to go. Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it is nice to have a rich and delicious dish like this one. Topped with an egg, “sunny side up” style, this risotto recipe allows you to have a tasty and eye-appealing meal.
Regardless of whether you want to feed a guest or just want to enjoy a tasty risotto, this particular one with fresh mushrooms is sure going to satisfy anyone’s palate! This is a true vegetable risotto staple. Made with Arborio rice, vegetable broth, and Parmesan cheese it is the definition of a great meal!
If you are the type who loves to take shortcuts when cooking, then this is the recipe you need. This risotto will be done with a fracture of the effort a regular one would need. The trick is to bake the rice for part of the cooking time. Plus, this recipe calls for bacon, and there is nothing better than a creamy risotto with crispy bacon.
If you are in for a hearty and healthy take on risotto, then this risotto recipe is sure going to be a hit with you. The rice (go for any of the above-mentioned ones), the broccoli and the toasted zucchini are a match made in heaven. Add ricotta to the equation and the final result is going to be pure risotto perfection!
And last, but certainly not least, you have to give this sweet take on risotto a try. Although it is not the typical risotto recipe, we just had to give it an honorable mention here. It is not only tasty but it is also gluten free, all the more reason to give it a try.
Of course, you can find many other great risotto recipes out there. The versatility of risotto is unquestioned, ingredients as veal, mushrooms, squid ink, scallops, lobster, snails, asparagus, duck, truffles, and pumpkin can all make their way in risotto recipes, and you should definitely prepare this Italian staple next chance you get.