Italy is the second largest producer of rice in the world. That's a lot of rice! Risotto is a huge part of the cuisine in Northern Italy, since the rice fields are mainly located in the region of Piemonte and Lombardia, thanks to the abundance of water available from the many rivers that flow throughout the regions like, the Po River, Italy's longest river.
Often we overlook a creamy risotto as a perfect alternative to a dish of pasta. However, making risotto isn't exactly the easiest task in the kitchen, in fact it just sounds intimidating. You can overcook it, undercook it, make it too creamy, make it too dry and sticky, or simply make it a complete disaster. There are specific techniques to follow and ingredients to use that renders this heart-warming and delicious first dish simply irresistible. I have consulted with the best cooks to find out what exactly are the secrets to making the perfect risotto.
Tip #1: Slice or mince the onions thinly and gently sauté the onion either in butter or oil. The onions should be just translucent.
Tip #2: Once the onions are ready, add the rice directly from the package; never rinse the rice. At this point, the flame should be on high and stir the rice with a wooden spoon for a few minutes, so that the rice is coated correctly.
Tip #3: Evaporating the wine. Once the rice is coated, add half a glass of white or red wine--depending on what the recipe calls for. Stir it in and cook until it evaporates completely.
Tip #4: Once the rice is coated and the wine is totally evaporated, it's time to add the stock. Adding the stock is the most crucial moment of the risotto making process. There are two different "schools" in going about this step. The first technique is to first add two ladles of simmering stock.
Once the stock is absorbed, continue to add one ladle of stock at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon. Continue until the rice is done. The second technique is, according to the traditional Vercelli way, add all the stock at once, leaving the rice to absorb it entirely until it is done. Either way the rice should cook between 15 to 18 minutes. Also, one important tip is that you must never cover the saucepan while cooking risotto.
Tip #5: Mantecatura is the secret of a great risotto. Mantecatura is the stage when the rice is nearly done cooking and the majority of the stock is absorbed. At this time it is important for the risotto to be taken off the heat. Next, you must add the final ingredients, whether it's butter, grated parmigiano cheese, parsley, etc. (according to your recipe), and vigorously stir the risotto for about 1 to 2 minutes. This renders the risotto creamy and smooth.
Tip #6: Before serving the risotto, let it rest for one minute or so.
Tip #7: Last but not least, always serve the risotto "all'onda" which means "like a wave."
If you follow these tips, you'll make the perfect risotto that even the top chefs of America would envy.
Put your skills to the test and try this risotto recipe:
Risotto ai Funghi Porcini (Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2-ounce dried porcini broken into pieces with your hands
1/2 cup white wine
3 1/2 cups chicken stock, hot
1/2 pound fresh porcini cleaned and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling
In a 12 to 14-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Once the onions are translucent add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the dried porcini.
Add the wine to the toasting rice, and then add a 4 to 6-ounce ladle of stock and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock a ladle at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Just before adding the last 4 to 6-ounces of stock add the freshly sliced porcini. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy and yet still a little al dente, about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese until well mixed. Portion risotto into 4 warmed serving plates, serving with extra cheese.