Hands on hips, but no pursed lips. My ‘attitude’ regarding risotto is born of listening and learning from other people, and then practising at home. Ours is not to pontificate but ours IS to investigate, evaluate and recreate.
I would like to encourage people to think of risottos as something eminently ‘do-able’ and not a fancy schmancy dish that only a professional chef can handle. And if it is true that a proper chef is naturally going to be more of a dab hand at producing a risotto of sublime standards of flavour, I see no hubris at all in wanting to believe that one can tackle a risotto of jolly good home-cooking standards of flavour.
Here are some points that I consider useful:
1) The choice of rice is important, obviously. It has to be Italian rice, not jasmine or basmati or anything like that. People abroad seem to think that Arborio is the only kind of rice for making a good risotto whereas in Italy it is the Carnaroli and Vialone Nano kind that are much more sought after and preferred by chefs as well as home cooks. If you buy a rice like the Aquerello brand, which comes in a tin, then do open it at least half an hour before using it … to let the rice ‘breathe’.
2) A risotto always deserves to be cooked in good and well flavoured water, otherwise known as stock — be it vegetable, chicken/meat or fish in provenance. You can salt the stock or salt the rice. I usually do a bit of both.
3) Great care must be taken in ‘toasting’ the rice properly at the beginning (“tostatura”) to ensure that it will keep its figure and form and so that it will sneerily eschew the very notion of stickiness at the end of the cooking process. When cooked, the rice must not stick together as if glued but, instead, each ‘chicco’ (grain) of rice must stand proudly independent while being intimately part of Team Risotto at the same time. The tostatura of rice is executed over a fairly high heat. Most recipes call for you to toast the rice with some olive oil. Actually, as I learnt via chef Arcangelo Dandini, one can toast the rice plain, with no olive oil whatsoever.
4) Chopped onion is usually the premise for most risottos and needs to be cooked in olive oil (you could add a smidgeon of butter if you wanted to). Unlike the tostatura, the onion must cook over a LOW, soft heat in order not to brown. And this presents us with a contradiction. My easy way out of this is to cook the onion in a separate frying pan and add it to the rice later on, once the first few ladles of simmering stock have been added. (I got this tip from Allan Bay’s cookery book “Cuochi si Diventa”.)
5) When adding the wine … it is a good idea to have the wine at least warm if not hot. Wine is added just after the tostatura when the rice is very hot. If you pour cold wine over it, it will bring the temperature down. To be honest, I think this rule applies if you are making a large amount of risotto (say, over 1 kg). If you are making less, I am sure room-temperature as opposed to hot is good enough. The only hot liquid ALWAYS must be the stock that is added.
6) A risotto does NOT, contrary to so much public opinion and huffing and puffing about the subject, require constant stirring. Nor is it always “creamy” in texture. If you don’t believe me, I hope you will believe Gabriele Ferron (see http://thefoodpornographer.com/2013/09/rice-masterclass-with-gabriele-ferron ).
6a) Grated parmesan cheese tends to be added at the same time as the butter … with more sprinkled on top later on, if so desired.
7) It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single cook in possession of a good fortune would never dream of skimping on butter when it comes to finishing off a risotto (most risottos except for those that are fish based). Once cooked, the risotto must be almost embalmed in butter and left to rest for a few minutes, preferably with a lid on top. The term for this final touch is the verb “mantecare” or noun “mantecatura”. I mentioned in another post that I am much persuaded that the etymology could owe something to Spain, where the word for butter is: mantequilla. (Let us not forget that the risotto is a dish from the North of Italy and that the Spanish aristocracy liked to rule bits and pieces of Italy.) Of course the Italian word for ‘cloak’ is “manto” … so maybe it’s a case of using butter with which to ‘cloak’ the risotto. On the other hand, there is the French gastronomy technique called “monter au beurre”, which is about adding butter towards the end of a recipe, and the word ‘monter’ somehow got morphed into ‘mantecare’ ?
And that’s it!
The risotto I am presenting at the end of this hands-on-hips exhortatory introduction is one that complies with the rules of making the best of leftovers. In this case the leftovers were yellow and red capsicum/peppers that I had roasted in the oven to serve as a vegetable side dish (“contorno”). My camera was playing games with me that day and introduced far too much light into the frames and so I now call this recipe:
Risotto à la Praise the Lord, I saw the light! and here is a link to Johnny Cash singing it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64iYiNAYXZo. Perhaps you could draw inspiration to make your own risotto with leftovers?
I tasted it … and it required a few drops of lemon juice.
A cascade of grated parmesan. Sssssh …. the risotto is “mantecat-ing” !
The finished risotto with a beam of light … this risotto saw the light!I dotted the plate with little edible flowers from my balcony … they too saw the light!
Happy days everyone!