July 21, 2010 | about: Risotto
Every culture seems to have its own take on rice. In Asia, rice is steamed or fried, it is curried in India, pilaf style in France, and made for paella in Spain. But in Italy, rice is something different.
Risotto is one of those little gifts from the heavens that really separates Italian rice from all other cultures. Utilizing the natural starches of the rice, a creamy risotto can serve as either a hearty meal, or a delicate accompaniment. Finding the risotto that suits your taste depends a lot on what kind of rice you choose. So you might be asking yourself, “how do I know what rice to use?” Well, it all depends on what you want out of your risotto.
Let’s talk a little about the varieties of rice for risotto.
There are over 2000 different varieties of rice throughout the world. Fifteen of these can be used to make risotto. The varieties vary from soft to firm, long grain to small and are graded accordingly. Risotto grading goes as follows:
Superfino – Largest grain
Fino – Medium grain
Semifino – Small grain
Commune – Smallest grain (Little pearls)
Basically, the larger the grain, the lighter and less sticky the risotto will be. This is because of the separate starches within each grain. You see, each piece of rice contains two parts, the outer starch, which dissolves in the cooking process and gives the risotto the creamy texture it is so famous for, and the inner starch, which, when cooked properly, is al dente and allows each grain to stand out among the others. The larger the grain, the larger the inner starch is and the better texture your risotto will have. Both professional chefs and home cooks seem to have narrowed the variety of rice down to four main choices.
The most commonly used risotto rice named after it’s place of origin, Arborio in the Po Valley. It is cultivated in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Italy. It is a large grain rice (superfino) and is classic for Risotto Milanese.
From the same region as arborio rice, carnaroli is considered the king of risotto rice. The grain is slightly larger than arborio and can therefore retain more liquid while still holding shape. Graded as a superfino rice, it is a favorite among top chefs throughout the world.
Vialone Nano (Nano)
Vialone Nano comes from the Veneto region of Italy. It is classified as semifino due to the smaller, thicker size. This medium grain rice allows the risotto dish to be smoother and creamier, with less separation of the grains.
Baldo style Rice rice is considered the daughter of Arborio rice. Because of the small size of the rice, it is much stickier and creamier than the previous three and therefore is graded as semifino. This being said, it has a much shorter cooking time and is very common in salads, soups and deserts as well.
The rice we use in the restaurant, along with many of the top restaurants in the country is Acquerello Organic Carnaroli Rice a rice aged for one to three years in a temperature controlled chamber. This allows the grains to absorb more cooking liquid, therefore absorbing more flavor, while still holding a beautiful al dente texture. In my opinion, it is the best rice for both elegant and rustic risotto.
The standard ratio of cooking liquid to rice in a risotto is 1:3. This means for every one cup of rice, you would add three cups of liquid. However, this tends to vary based on the type of rice used and the consistency desired. The cooking liquid can be anything you desire, so feel free to get adventurous with it. Some classic risotto dishes, as shown later in this chapter, use water, a stock of some sort, or just wine. I have had fantastic risotti made with different vegetable or fruit juices, or even with milk. Making risotto can be a terrifying task to try to overcome. Have no fear, though, because with a little concentration, and a little more wine, one can easily get the knack for making risotto. Most importantly, do not be afraid to try something new, if it doesn’t come out good, you could always order a pizza!