All About Risotto, History, Origin, and Preparation

After centuries of effort to emerge, rice has become the absolute protagonist of many Italian dishes, and not just risottos. We can taste it in salads, as in the case of the fresh, delicious, and complete variant that we offer here , but it is also used in cakes , both in savory and sweet versions , or as a filling for vegetables, such as inthese really yummy stuffed tomatoes .

The culinary traditions from all over the world have been able to enhance this cereal, from Japan to Italy, where it has been consecrated at high levels thanks to the professionalism in the typical Made in Italy cuisine, which has made it a trademark.

The origin of the risotto

The so-called “original rice” , from which all the other varieties arose, was born only in 1924 after dozens of grafts to make it resistant to brusona, a parasite that at the end of the 19th century destroyed the country’s crops.

From there the various selections are born , with great geographical confusion. Both vialone and carnaroli were born in the province of Pavia by the same peasant, Ettore De Vecchi, in the immediate post-war period. And then, in the 1940s, the arborio, the Roma, and the baldo were created . 

So the rice was mainly cooked in soup . In other words, they put water and rice in at the same time and let it cook by absorption. To prevent the dish from being too thick or too mixed, it was necessary to know exactly how much liquid to use from the start. Something extremely difficult because they had to calculate “by eye” the exact amount of water from the beginning. 

In the Mantua area there is still a recipe, “alla pilota” rice (rice, in fact, not “risotto”), which wants the cereal to be cooked like this, boiled in the right dose of boiling water or in broth, with the sauce (butter, salami paste and lots of cheese) added later, on the side.

In the mid-19th century, Lombardy spread risotto throughout northern Italy , both in the poor variant (the Carthusian risotto, seasoned with what was invented by the monks of the Certosa di Pavia) and in the aristocratic one, where it became popular. the Milanese risotto , characterized by the use of saffron , a very expensive product that he wanted to reproduce or simulate the use of gold as a medieval food.

In a way, we could say that risotto was born out of culinary experimentation , of cooking with leftovers , of “throwing what you have” into rice cooked in broth (something the less superstitious had done since the mid-1700s). 

The first Milanese risotto recipe is written in the book “New Milanese Economic Cook” by Giovanni Felice Luraschi is from 1853. Essentially the same recipe as today: sautéed rice with onions in butter and chicken broth . 

But there are other historical references. The first is the “Viandier”, the French culinary bestseller of the Middle Ages, Guillaume Tirel, proposed scrambled rice: “Cook the rice in hot milk, then cook it with fatty broth and saffron (…)”.

Later, in 1557, the chef from the East of Ferrara cooked rice with cheese, broth, saffron and egg yolk, but Sicilian origin was attributed to it. Finally, Carlo Goldoni, an 18th century gastronome, names a risotto cooked with poultry broth in a comedy.

But, beyond visionary intuitions, risotto spread on a large scale from Milan at the beginning of the 20th century with a recipe that had already been known for a few centuries. 

Where does the word risotto come from?

The word “ risotto ” derives from “riso”, which is what rice is called in Italian . It is very typical of the rice-producing regions of northern Italy (Piemonte, Lombardia, Veneto), although its consumption is widespread throughout Italy. It is a very easy dish to prepare as long as you follow the instructions and suggestions that we give you in How to make risotto?

Endless recipes with sublime flavors

The great Italian chefs of the second half of the 20th century, from Nino Bergese to Gualtiero Marchesi with his famous school, experimented a lot, creating elegant dishes starting from a substantially poor raw material. 

And now on the menu of any self-respecting restaurant there is at least one risotto. With saffron , as in the classic Milanese risotto , with mushrooms, radicchio, with beans and sausage, but also with strawberries and champagne, or with crustaceans, with the scent of tomato and basil, in an uninterrupted dialogue with the wonders offered by the territory : it is a tradition , that of risotto, which crosses the boot from north to south . 

Regardless of the ingredients,to obtain a perfect risotto some general rules apply: the toasting of the rice , the addition of white wine to blend (and then broth to cook) and finally the creaming , which gives the dish creaminess and enveloping.

What are the ingredients in a risotto?

These are the ingredients of the risotto :

Basic ingredients , which are used in all risotto recipes: rice, sofrito, broth, wine and parmigiano cheese

Additional ingredients of each recipe: vegetables, meat, fish.

This dish will always have rice and a boiling broth as basic ingredients that we will add little by little to cook it. The choice of the type of rice that you will use for the risotto will be very important, if you want to make a risotto in the authentic Italian style , we recommend you choose the Riso Scotti “arborio” variety of rice, one of the most suitable for its preparation.

In addition, a risotto will almost always have a sautéed onion (in butter or olive oil) that will help you enhance the flavor of the main ingredients that you have chosen for your recipe (vegetables, meat or fish). The perfect finishing touch to achieve the creamy texture that characterizes this dish will be provided by a little grated cheese and/or a touch of butter once it has been cooked. The most used cheese for risotto is Parmigiano Reggiano, a cheese that will never be missing in an Italian fridge and is used for both pasta and risotto.

But what is the ideal rice for Risotto?

The Japonica of the species Oryza sativa is the one that gave origin to all the varieties cultivated in Italy. And it is the one that releases more starch in the cooking of

grains of rice and therefore the most suitable for the preparation of risottos.

In Italy, rice typologies are classified into four categories:

Common rice : with a short, round grain, it tends to break during cooking. Rich in starch it is more suitable for desserts and soups. Among the varieties are the Originario and the Balilla.

Semi-fine rice : with a medium grain and always round, more “solid” and suitable for our risottos. Among the varieties is the Vialone Nano.

Fine rice : with a long, tapered grain, low in starch, it can be used for risotto. But it is certainly more suitable for timpani, pilaf and boiled rice.

Superfine rice : with a long but consistent grain, it is best suited for risotto. And it is considered one of the best Italian rices. The Carnaroli is part of this variety.

What is the most suitable variety for risotto?

Carnaroli : the king of risotto, with an ideal consistency because it retains odors very well, and resists creaming without breaking. Born in 1945 from a cross between Vialone and Lencino.

Vialone nano : its characteristics are similar to Carnaroli although it belongs to the semi-fine category. It has slightly smaller, rounder grains. Originating in Verona, it was the first Italian rice to obtain the IGP designation . Its declared characteristic is that of being grown in areas irrigated with resurgence water.

Baldo : a relatively new rice, born in 1977 from a cross between Arborio species in the territories of Vercelli, Novara and Pavia. It has an excellent ability to absorb seasonings. And the release of starch is perfectly balanced during the cooking of the risotto. It is considered the new competitor of Carnaroli and is increasingly in demand even in the most refined kitchens.

Arborio : until a few decades ago it was the number one variety for risotto. Today, it has been “dethroned” by the varieties previously described. The grains are consistent and pearly; they can absorb water up to five times their weight. It is still suitable for risotto as long as it is creamy and rich in seasoning.

Preparation

Risotto is a simple dish to prepare. Before you start cooking, it’s important not to wash the rice because its starch is what helps maintain its classic risotto appearance. The rice is placed in a skillet, along with the desired vegetables, and lightly grilled. Broth or wine is poured into the mold and left to soak in the rice while the mixture cooks over low heat. The risotto is ready to serve when its texture is thick and creamy. According to Annamariavolpi.com, risotto may have come from trying to find a way to make the rice more like porridge.

traditions

One of Italy’s most famous dishes is Risotto alla Milanese. In the Po Valley, where most Italian rice grows, risotto is usually better than the first course over pasta. In Venice and the Veneto, risotto with sautéed eels is served as a traditional Christmas meal.

Making A Risotto: 5 Secrets To Know For A Perfect Risotto

Making risotto may seem simple, but there are a few tips that every Italian chef must follow when making it. You will need good products, elbow grease and attention to make this typical dish from northern Italy a success!

Get The Appropriate Utensils

Just like the ingredients, the utensils you use are very important. To make a risotto in the rules of the art, we advise you to use a fairly wide pan with a thick bottom. You will also need a ladle and a wooden spoon. Some recommend a spoon with one or more holes, others use a simple spoon. It’s up to you to see what suits you best and what you have on hand!

Carefully Selected Ingredients

For the rice: it goes without saying that you will need risotto rice, and usually hearts lean towards the Winged Bull risotto rice grown in the Italian regions of the Po Valley, where the soil and climatic conditions are ideal for developing all of its exceptional taste qualities. To brown: you will use butter or olive oil to brown your rice until it becomes transparent. You can also add minced garlic or onion to cook before adding the rice. For the moistening: opt for a dry white wine or a red wine, and let the rice absorb it. For the garnish: choose fresh quality ingredients, your risotto will only be better! Tip: unlike other varieties of rice, it is strongly advised not to rinse or wash the rice for risotto before cooking. By rinsing the rice chosen to make a risotto, you take the risk of ridding it of the starch which actively contributes to the creamy texture of the risotto.

Choose A Well-Scented Broth

This is the key ingredient for the success of an excellent risotto. Of course, we would be tempted to add a simple stock cube to hot water, but you can work miracles with very few ingredients. To make a risotto rich in flavor, prepare a vegetable broth with celery, carrots, onion, leek and a bouquet garni. Don’t forget to season it with salt and a few peppercorns. For a tasty broth, you can also add pancetta or a piece of ham.

Master Cooking Well

This is certainly where all the difficulty of a risotto lies: overcooked, it would become pasty. This is why we advise you never to prepare a risotto in advance. It’s a simple dish that demands your full attention. You will have to stay close to your pan while it cooks, which will last less than twenty minutes. Cover the rice with hot broth, and mix with a wooden spoon, forming a figure 8 in your pan. As soon as the liquid is absorbed, add a ladle of broth again. Follow your recipe to the letter, but do not hesitate to taste along the way to ensure perfect cooking!

Put The Finishing Touch

The Italians call it “mantecare”! It’s about making the connection in your risotto by adding a generous piece of butter, parmesan, or even a spoonful of mascarpone. The texture will only be creamier, and you will see that this final gesture will make all the difference!

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