So normally when I write a “Foods You Should Know” piece I talk about the history or social inner workings of a specific food or dish. Today is going to be half recipe and half history lesson. Earlier in the week I described how to make a barley risotto. I’ve since been living in fear of some kind of mafia retribution for besmirching the name of risotto. Take this as a confession and penance for my food sins.*
Risotto is an Italian rice dish that is about four hundred fifty years old. Rice was brought to Italy by Arab merchants in the fourteenth century. It was considered a valuable commodity and a luxury because it was not native to Italy. That was until Italian farmers figured out that the climate in northern and central italy was perfect for growing short grain rices. The production of rice exploded in italy in the decades to come.
Like any other dish risotto grew from a varied and wide spread food culture in Italy. Risotto is generally believed to be from the northern part of the country in the province of Lombardia. Risotto di Milanese is the most famous and basic take on risotto with only a few ingredients. Short grained rice, oil, dry white wine, onions, stock, butter and cheese. In true italian fashion we see multiple takes on the same base dish. In Piedmonte in the northwest corner of Italy we see Risotto al Barolo, a red version of risotto, which uses the highly acidic and multifaceted wine from the Nebbiolo grape. In Veneto, in the north east of the country we see a black version of risotto that contain the ink sacks and meat of the cuttlefish.** There are so many different takes on risotto, I for instance make a mean butternut squash risotto.
When you read about risotto on the internet the word “simple” is used a lot. And that is partially true, like many italian dishes risotto only has a few main ingredients. The trade off with simple food is that it’s very easy to screw it up. If you are making a curry with twenty different ingredients it’s easy to cover up a mistake, with a risotto one mistake or distraction and you will know it.
How To Make Risotto:
First and foremost you need to block off 45 minutes of your life. Once you start to make risotto there is no going back. Put your phone on silent, put on your favorite music and just got.
1 large onion(1/4 inch dice)
1 cup of arborio rice(do not soak)
2 cups of chicken stock (heated in a pot on the stove beside your sauce pan)
1/3 of a cup of dry white wine.
1/2 a cup of room temp unsalted butter
1/2 a cup of grated parmigiano reggiano***
Put oil in your sauce pan, on medium/low heat. Wait for the oil to just start to smoke and add your onions. Sweat your onions until they are translucent and then add your rice. You need to be vigilant here, keep that rice moving by using a spatula or wooden spoon. Also shake your sauce pan to get an even layer of rice across the surface of the pan. You are toasting the rice, it should be about 6-8 minutes of keeping the rice moving. This is where things get interesting, you will be waiting for a smell. When the rice is sufficiently toasted you will smell almost a burnt popcorn kind of smell. When that smell comes add your white wine. The wine will be quickly soaked up by the rice and a creamy starchy substance will begin to collect in the bottom of the pan. As soon as that liquid begins to burn off add a ladle of stock. Continue to stir and reduce the stock down to that creamy white liquid, and then again add more stock. Once your stock is in you will have about twenty minutes of adding stock and reducing until your rice is tender but slightly chalky in the middle(al dente). Make sure that the risotto is a little looser(waterier) than you would normally eat it. You then add the softened butter and cheese continuing to stir. The rice will continue to cook with the ambient heat. When served the risotto should spread out on the plate if it piles up it will still taste great but true risotto needs to a little looser so that you can take some bread and soak up the creamy goodness.
Risotto is all about feel, recipes are all well and great but if you over do your rice the dish is going to suck, if you burn your rice while toasting it’s going to suck, if you under do your rice, keep cooking.
So there, I feel much better about my transgressions. Hail Risotto full of starch and so on. Until next time.
*It’s sunday morning, I feel as though I am cleansing my culinary soul.
**The Cuttlefish is not actually a fish. It’s a cephalopod much closer to a squid or octopus.
***If you have that fake bullshit black diamond powdered parmesan cheese in your fridge throw it out, feel shame, and go buy a nice block of Parmigiano Reggiano and grate it as you need it.