Risotto is one of my favorite Italian dishes. Everyone tells me it is easy to prepare but I always end up with a big lump of inedible rice. I’ve tried ordering it in restaurants in the USA but it’s never quite the same as it is in Italy. Usually it is over-cooked and not sticky enough, or too soupy. Perfect risotto has eluded me in America.
However, my luck changed recently. I’ve had the good fortune to have an Italian exchange student staying with me for the past two months, and, big surprise, he makes a mean risotto.
Part of risottos’ appeal is that is can be flavored with most anything you like: meat, fish, or veggies. A rice dish native to Northern Italy, it is most commonly found in the regions of Lombardia, Piemonte, and the Veneto, though you can find it farther south as well. My favorite risottos are pumpkin with shrimp, any kind of seafood risotto, or just a simple veggie risotto.
In traditional Italian style, rice or pasta is a primo, or first course. The meat or fish is the secondo, or second course, though it is common to have a simple meal of only risotto or pasta. Risotto is also a good alternative for those on a gluten-free diet.
How To Make A Good Risotto
First things first: to make a proper risotto, you need the right kind of rice. Typically, Arborio rice is used. Arborio is a short-grain rice that sticks together well yet when properly cooked, remains slightly al dente.
Second, you must make a soffritto – which is simply butter or oil and onions sauteed together. Garlic is often added. You can also add any ingredients that need a bit of extra cooking, like a squash, meat, or mushrooms.
Next, you add the rice to this mixture to lightly toast it. Toast doesn’t mean you brown it – you simply make sure it is evenly coated in the soffritto mixture. Then add a glass of wine, stirring until it evaporates. After this step, you can begin adding your broth or water. This is where the all-important stirring comes in.
Learn To Cook Risotto
“If you want to make a delicious risotto, here are some tips you may want to use to get it the right way, I mean the Italian way.
First of all, remember to fry the rice for a minute or two in the butter with onions at high heat.
Second, add a glass of wine, because you cannot cook Italian dishes without wine. Whether in the pot or in your glass, wine is a must.
Then lower the heat and add some water little by little so the rice will cook slowly, absorbing all the flavors of the other ingredients.
Oh, and don’t forget to stir, stir again, and then, keep stirring. Stirring is the key for your perfectly cooked risotto.”
My note: Nicolas says you can use any kind of wine you like, but most often white wine is used. To make it easy, just use whatever wine you’re planning on drinking with your meal. In this case, I opened a nice light white wine from Sicily. A blend of grillo, a grape native to Sicily and voignier, the light acidity, fruit and floral notes, balanced well with the creamy nutty flavors of the risotto.
Nicolas’ stay will be over soon – before he left, I wanted one final risotto. I like his style of making it only with the traditional broth of onions, butter, wine, and water. No extra cream, cheese, or any kind of dairy is needed. This makes it lower in fat and friendly for lactose-intolerant friends. Parmesan cheese can be added after cooking if desired. We made a simple risotto with Delicata squash – a long hard squash with a thin but tough skin that needs to be removed before adding to the rice mixture.
You may wonder if I learned how to cook risotto from Nicolas. The answer is, I paid close attention and no doubt I know more than I did before he arrived. Can I now successfully prepare risotto? We’ll see!
1 c. of Arborio rice
1/2 of a large onion finely chopped
1 clove of garlic minced
1 c. of any type of white wine, but the kind for drinking, not the so-called cooking wine you buy in the store.
4 cups of broth or water, warm, not cold
1 medium Delicata squash, baked and then diced into cubes or lightly pureed in a food processor.
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Nicolas was recently interviewed by Wandering Educators for the White House Study Abroad series. If you want to know more about him and the program read: