Risotto is a creamy and rich famous Italian dish created in Milan. Traditionally made with short grain rice, Arborio or carnaroli rice is preferred giving a much moister result than when making a pilau. All risottos are made the same basic way using fine oil and butter, good stock and other ingredients can be added later.
Rice plays a greater part in the cooking of Northern Italy, Superfino carnaroli is the finest of the short grain rices, but there is also Carnaroli. Most of the rice is grown in the Po valley in Piedmont. The superfino rice swells to at least three times its original size, enabling it to absorb a lot of cooking liquid but still retaining its shape, and having an “al dente” texture as well as a creamy smoothness. Arborio rice is also good for making risottos and can be bought in most supermarkets, whereas another rice Vialone nano can only be found in specialist delicatessens.
The rice is coated in oil or butter, finely chopped onion and garlic is then added and cooked gently until soft. Hot stock is added a little at a time and stirred over a low heat until all the liquid is absorbed. I like a mixture of oil and butter, olive oil has no cholesterol and is easily digested but butter gives a good flavour. It does not need to be Extra virgin olive oil that is best used in dressings.
The stock used should preferably be homemade, it is worthwhile making larger quantities which can be reduced and frozen for a few weeks. Homemade stock whether it is brown, white, vegetable or fish is healthier as you can control the amount of salt used. If un-available a good stock cube can be dissolved in boiling water. To give your risotto those extra flavours try adding a glass of vermouth or white wine before the stock. A ladle more stock is added when the previous stock had been absorbed, stirring adds to the creaminess, it should not boil but just bubble gently. It will take about 30 minutes to cook a perfect risotto.
Risotto can be served as a first course or as a main dish, using as a starter enables the diner to have their “comfort” food and then a lower carbohydrate main dish perhaps grilled fish or meat with vegetables or salad.
My favourite risotto recipe needs the following for 6 main portions
450g Arborio rice or similar
2 glasses vermouth or dry white wine
2 tblsp. Olive oil
knob of butter
4 chopped celery stalks
1 large onion – finely chopped
2 cloves garlic – crushed.
Freshly ground salt and pepper
100gr grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oil and knob of butter, toss washed rice and add celery, onion and garlic. Cook slowly for 10-15 mins. add vermouth or wine, stir well adding hot stock as liquid is absorbed. After about 15- 20 mins when rice is al dente, stir in remaining butter and parmesan and cover, turn heat off and leave for 2 minutes. Serve with more freshly grated Parmesan. If you don’t like celery this can be omitted or another vegetable added, but it is good fibre for the diet.
This makes a really tasty risotto, adding cooked prawns after stirring the butter and cheese makes a light lunch time risotto, or perhaps some asparagus or try roasting some peeled squash in oil sprinkled with crushed coriander seeds and some streaky bacon or pancetta. This can be stirred in just before serving. Other favourites are adding peas whilst cooking the rice and stirring in cooked chopped ham at the end. A nice fresh tasting risotto can be achieved by cooking sliced leeks and mushrooms in some oil and adding them, with grated lemon rind, chopped parsley and chives at the end. Roasted red peppers, peeled and then added with skinned tomatoes makes a lovely red risotto. Once you have achieved the creamy risotto, you can experiment with flavourings.