Gourmet Secrets: O Risotto Mio
It isn’t hard to understand why north Italy’s creamy, cheesy rice dish is a worldwide favouriteUpdated: Mar 31, 2018 23:29 IST
Rice is my comfort food and the equivalent of a big, fat hug; something I simply can’t resist. I throw all caution and diets to the wind and give myself an excuse to indulge in something hot like plain boiled rice or dal khichri (have switched from white to nutty mountain brown though), and fried (can anyone resist a bowl of Chinese egg fried rice on a Friday night?), or a smooth and silky risotto.
Risotto is made mainly in northern Italy in the Veneto (the area around Venice and Verona) and in Piedmont (the area around Turin), where they add the local red wine Barolo to it instead of stock. Northern Italy can have harsh, blustery winter days, which are perfect for a hot dish of cheesy, creamy rice.
Hard in the kitchen, easy on the tongue
Much is made of risotto, the creamy Italian rice dish, and few make it really well. The main characteristic of risotto rice as opposed to ours, is that it is able to absorb moisture and swell to more than double its volume after being cooked, while still retaining a bite in the centre. The best and most commonly found rice for risotto is Arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano. All are available in India in gourmet shops and online.
Rice for risotto is never washed as this removes the starch which gives risotto its creamy texture. The principle is to cook the rice slowly by letting it gradually absorb stock, which is added little by little, one ladle full at a time, until the rice is cooked.
It is important to constantly stir to prevent it from sticking. It is also essential that your stock is hot so that the rice doesn’t stop cooking every time you add stock. Take it off the gas just before you think it is ready because it will continue to cook in its own heat. Most people add some wine, a little onion and Parmesan at the end. You can make it vegetarian with asparagus or mushrooms or indulgent with shaved truffles, or non-vegetarian with seafood. The most important ingredients though, are your rice and stock.
Khichri, Italian style
The ideal consistency of risotto is soft and runny, but you should be able to pick it up with a fork. it should never be cooked till it gets dry. Left over risotto makes the most delicious fried balls called arancini. All you have to do is add an egg to the cold rice with a little grated Parmesan and some breadcrumbs, make little balls in the palm of your hand and deep fry them.
Risotto is not difficult to get right provided you follow instructions. It is a sublime dish to taste, but I must warn you, it can look like a good khichri!
I re-learned my risotto skills at a recent lunch with chef Roberto Gatto from the celeb hang out and most glamorous hotel in Venice, Cipriani. His risotto is one of the best selling dishes on the menu at Cip’s, their stunning waterfront restaurant overlooking San Marco, over which Roberto presides.
Roberto is very clear that he uses vialone nano only and his stock is obviously home made. The recipe is wickedly simple but specific on quality of ingredients. I thought his insistence on vialone nano rice was a bit over the top, till I tasted it. I’ve had many, many risotti in my day, but his asparagus risotto beats them all. And if you get a chance to eat one at Cip’s overlooking the lagoon at sunset... Well there are very few experiences to match that.
Below is chef Roberto Gatto’s recipe:
Green asparagus risotto
- 60g vialone nano rice
- 50g fresh asparagus, cut into 1” length and sauté in a little butter for a couple of minutes
- 1litre vegetable broth
- 30g butter
- 1tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 30g grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
- 15g minced onion
- ½ glass white wine
- salt & pepper
Melt butter in frying pan and add onions, cook for 2-3 minutes and add rice. Toast for 2-3 minutes. Add white wine and cook until evaporated. Slowly add vegetable broth, one ladle at a time. Cook for another 15-16 minutes. Remove from heat and fold in parmigiano cheese adding salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle olive oil and serve.
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on April 15.
From HT Brunch, April 1, 2018
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First Published: Mar 31, 2018 22:37 IST