by Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
The origins of risotto are a mystery and still disputed. It is a most fantastic Italian dish that is cooked in every Italian region. Neapolitaners proudly say that they created the first risotto, but in Lombardy, they say the same. If you are in Milan, your risotto will be made with beef stock and a pinch of saffron (Risotto alla Milanese). If you travel to the Veneto region near Venice, the risotto is cooked with seafood or with the ink of the cuttlefish that turns the rice black! Every region has their own version—and they are all delicious.
Most certainly, rice has Asian origins, where it has been cultivated from ancient times, and it's possible that gypsies brought it to Italy from India. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact date, but there are records that state that the Duke of Milan claimed that he sent one sack of rice to the Duke of Ferrara promising that if properly cultivated, twelve sacks of rice could be harvested from the one. At any rate, it is with us now, and we are so lucky!
Risotto is never a side dish in Italy, it is always a main course.
Classic risotto is a creamy, delicious dish and very versatile. It goes well with almost every vegetable, but there are some rules to making a perfect Italian risotto:
1. You have to chose the right kind of rice—Arborio or Carnaroli—and never wash it!
2. You must always start with the toasting, "tostatura of the rice."
3. You must always add white wine for the next stage and let it evaporate.
4. After the wine has evaporated, you add broth a ladle at a time (the risotto doesn’t have to be completely covered), letting the broth evaporate each time as you stir occasionally until cooked.
5. The last step has to be the “mantecatura”—stirring the rice with a dollop of butter and grated parmesan until creamy.
Here is one of my "go to" recipes for a perfect Porcini Risotto.
Risotto ai Porcini
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1 glass of white wine
4 cups of vegetable stock
A dollop of butter
Salt & pepper
Over a low flame, heat homemade or ready-made vegetable broth in a pan near the pot where you’ll make the risotto.
In a bowl with hot water, soak the dried mushrooms to rehydrate.
Make a "soffritto" by sauteeing the chopped onions in oil in a large pot.
Add the rice and stir with the onions until the rice looks like glass. This step, the toasting or “tostatura of the rice,” is the most important part of the recipe. It creates a shell around the rice kernel which allows it to slowly absorb the cooking liquid without making the dish too soggy.
Next, squeeze the mushroom to release their liquid and stir them into the rice.
Add the white wine and let it evaporate.
Once the wine has evaporated, add the broth, one ladle at a time over a low fire. Allow each addition of broth to evaporate before adding another ladle. Stir occasionally.
Start tasting the rice after about 12 minutes of cooking time. It should be “al dente,” with a little bit of resistance when you bite it. It shouldn't be hard, nor should it be mushy. What did Goldilocks say? "Just right."
Once the risotto is done, remove it from the heat and add a dollop of butter with the grated parmesan and stir. This is the “manteca tura” that gives the risotto a rich, creamy texture.
Let the risotto sit for 3 minutes, covered, then serve.