first course cooking time: 30 minutes level: easy to do
Measurements are shown in non-metric and metric quantities (example: 3 ounces | 80 gr).
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Risotto is a typical Italian first course. In Italian, “riso” means rice and risotto means rice-based dish. Risotto is more common in Northern Italy. In Southern Italy, people have always preferred pasta. As the rice has a neutral flavor, it can be paired with almost everything. You can make risotto with any kind of ingredients: meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, fruits, even wine and milk. Risotto is a rich and tasty dish typical of the Mediterranean diet. It can be extremely calorific if you add butter and cheese, otherwise, it’s a light and easy to digest dish. It’s gluten-free.
To cook a perfect risotto, you must follow a method which is always the same for any kind of risotto: prepare the broth, poach the garlic, soften the onion, cook the meat or fish, sauté the vegetables, toast the rice, deglaze with wine, add the cooked meat/fish/vegetables, cook the rice with the broth, add butter and cheese and season with the fresh herbs and spices. If you follow all of these steps in the right order, you will not make mistakes and you will have a perfect Italian risotto.
MOST COMMON RISOTTO RECIPES
Fish risotto ( swordfish, mussel and clam, shrimp risotto); mushroom risotto; pumpkin risotto, artichoke risotto, sausage and cauliflower, saffron risotto, green pea risotto, potato and Parmigiano cheese risotto.
VARIETY OF RICE
You can make risotto using different types of rice: Arborio ( from Piemonte region), Vialone Nano ( from Verona city area), Carnaroli, Baldo, Roma. The best variety is the Carnaroli one for its high starch percentage which makes it resistant to long cookings and makes the risotto very creamy. Using other varieties, as Basmati, parboiled, red or black rice, it’s almost impossible to make a good risotto, Italian style.
HOW TO STORE RISOTTO
When the risotto is ready, serve it immediately. You can not warm it again the day after. If so, it loses its creaminess and the rice grains will become sticky In Sicily, Southern Italy, with the rice leftover, they prepare “arancini”: pan-fried rice balls. This is the only way to eat risotto the day after. The risotto base can be stored 5 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer. We usually freeze the mushroom risotto base as mushrooms are available only in Autumn.
Do not add all the broth all at once, otherwise, the final result could be more similar to a soup than to a risotto. Add the broth little by little, 2 full ladle per time.
The beginners find it difficult to understand how much broth the risotto needs while cookings. There’s only one rule to follow: the rice needs boiling broth to cook in. In the pan, rice should always been submerged in the broth. So add 1 or 2 ladles of broth each time the risotto has absorbed it and keep on adding it for the whole cooking time. Stir from time to time and check that the rice doesn’t stick and if there’s still enough broth.
Always remember to toast the rice ( for 2-3 minutes). If you do so, the rice will become more compact and will support long cooking process. This happens because grains will crystallize during the toasting process. If you don’t toast the rice when finished cooking it will be too tender, too gluey more similar to boiled rice than to an Italian risotto.
The cooking time is always written on the rice packaging. It is related to the time the rice will cook in the broth. So, set the timer after toasting and deglazing with the wine.
The choice of the pan in which you cook your risotto is essential. It should be broad, shallow, with a thick bottom. Better if it’s a steel pan. If you are a beginner, avoid using an aluminium pan.
A JOB WELL DONE
You did a good job if:
• at the end of the cooking, onion is creamy and indiscernible
• meat or fish is tender but not too dry
• vegetables still have their distinguish tastes
• your risotto is creamy even if you do not add butter or/and cheese
AT THE RESTAURANT
In Italy, at the restaurants, on the menu, it’s always written “Risotto is at least for 2 people” (minimo 2 persone). Why? The risotto is not pre-prepared and then warmed. It’s cooked in the moment you order it. As it takes at least 25 minutes to cook, it’s not convenient to cook just for 1 person.
So, if you order a risotto, 2 people, relax and wait for it at least 25 minutes. Meanwhile, you can enjoy an appetizer and a glass of wine. If you order a risotto, and they immediately serve it, you are not in a good restaurant. If this happens in Italy, it means that that restaurant is not run by an Italian chef.
Usually, in Italy, on the menu, you don’t have a large choice of risotto. It’s the opposite related to pasta. You can easily find fish risotto or seasonal vegetarian risotto, not more than this. Don’t ask me why. The large choice of Italian risotto is more home cooking recipes you don’t find at the restaurants.
In Italy, the rice has always been cultivated in Northern Italy. The rice is a cereal which needs a lot of water to grow. In the North of Italy, thanks to the rivers we have and the high mountains, water has always been available. The rice is cultivated in Piemonte, Lombardia and Veneto regions and in small areas in Emilia Romagna at the Po river mouth.
The risotto is a typical Northern Italian dish. People from Southern Italy don’t love it very much. As the cooking time of risotto is longer compared to the one for pasta, even in Northern Italy, nowadays, people prefer to cook pasta than risotto. It’s difficult to find people who cook it very often at home. It’s something that people enjoy at the restaurant. It’s sad, but in Italy, you easily find people who don’t eat risotto at home as they don’t know how to cook it and they don’t even try to learn as they think that they will be never able to do it.
If you think that the risotto is a time-consuming dish, you can prepare a rich risotto as a single course. For example, a fish and zucchini risotto or sausage and cauliflower risotto are such rich dishes that you don’t need much more than this. You need time to do it, but lunch or dinner is ready. They contain carbs, protein and vegetables.
If you follow the right method to prepare it, the risotto is a tasty and light dish. Not very calorific and easy to digest. You feel full after it. At the restaurant, the risotto can be terribly heavy as they use lots of butter and cheese to make it very creamy and tasty.
At home, using my method, the risotto can be a perfect dish for people who are on a diet as it gives you energy but it’s a light dish.
THE HISTORY OF RICE AND RISOTTO
The rice is a grain from Asia. We know that even on the IVth century BC, the rice grew along the Eufrate river, in Mesopotamia. During the Roman Empire, it was common on rich families tables but it was imported. Romans were not able to grow it. It was considered a medicine and it was very expensive. It was not a first-course dish but always associated with sugar and spices like cinnamon.
Arabs bought it to Spain and then to Italy. Maybe we started to grow it in Napoli as Napoli was under the power of Spain. Starting from there it became very common everywhere in Northern Italy.
In Italy, we started to grow rice, for profit at the end of the 15th century along the Po river. First, in Lombardia region, then in Veneto and Piemonte regions.
By the 16th century, the rice is almost grown everywhere in Northern Italy. It was used to make soups, to accompany fish and meat, to make bread as the rice flour rises. It’s very common to make cakes and biscuits too.
Rice has always been very expensive, compare to corn or to wheat. It was sold in drugstores. At the beginning, it was used as a medicine against dysentery. Then, the rice flour was used for baking. At the royals table, it was served with almond milk, raisins and cinnamon. It was a delicacy for few people.
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