Since my origins are from Southern Italy I was always used to eating pasta and really never knew about the existence of this great rice dish from the northern Po Valley called risotto.
It wasn’t until I won a Fulbright Exchange scholarship to go live and teach English to Italian students in Torino, Italy, that I learned to eat and make risotto.
This dish is eaten almost everywhere in the North in place of pasta and there are some restaurants solely dedicated to various types of risotto. It’s a great dish for Lent and a wonderful side dish for meat or fish. It can be served plain or mixed with vegetables, chicken, shrimp, or almost anything.
You must use a specific rice called Arborio rice which you can find in most any supermarket’s rice isle. It will cook into a thick gooey texture for the risotto and will remain chewy. Regular long-grain rice does not work! So here is the basic recipe and I can tell you where in the recipe to add other ingredients such as sliced zucchini and onion, for example.
To serve 6 to 8 people you will need:
- 7 cups of chicken broth (stock), fresh, canned or in cubes
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- ½ cup finely chopped onions
- ½ cup finely chopped zucchini , or mushrooms, chicken or shrimp, etc. You don’t have to add extra ingredients, but I always do.
- 2 cups of ARBORIO rice
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a 2 to 3 quart saucepan and keep it barely simmering over low heat.
- In a large frying pan melt 4 tablespoons of butter over moderate heat.
- Cook the onions and zucchini (or other ingredient) in the butter for 7 to 8 minutes. Do not let them brown but make sure if you use chicken that the pieces are cooked thoroughly. Remove the onions and other ingredients and place them aside for now.
- If the pan needs a coating replenishing after removing the vegetables, etc, cover the bottom with extra virgin olive oil, but don’t saturate.
- The hardest part about making risotto is that you have to constantly stir until it is cooked. So you may want to take turns. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly for 1 or 2 minutes or until the grains glisten and are somewhat opaque.
- Pour in the wine and boil it until it is completely absorbed.
- Then add 2 cups of the simmering stock to the rice and cook uncovered while you continue to stir with a wooden spoon if possible.
- When the liquid is almost all absorbed, add two more cups of stock and cook, while you continue to stir maybe every other minute.
- Continue to add 2 more cups of stock as the rice absorbs the precious liquid.
- Cook until the stock is completely absorbed by the rice.
The dish should be very gooey and thick at the end, but don’t stop stirring until it is.
- By now the rice should be tender. If it is still firm, add the remaining stock – ½ cup at a time and continue cooking and stirring until the rice is soft.
- You are now ready to fold in the other ingredients that you had previously removed (zucchini, onions, etc.)
- Stir in the 4 tablespoons of soft butter and the grated cheese with a fork, making sure not to mash the rice.
- Serve IMMEDIATELY while the rice is gooey and piping hot!
The risotto is great also with chopped asparagus as an ingredient. One of my absolute favorites!
As I said, many Italians eat risotto rather then pasta in the North. The Po Valley or Valle Padana runs 400 miles from east to west from the Western Alps, and empties into the Adriatic Sea. It is Italy’s longest river and Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe. Rice is grown from April to October.
The reason the most famous rice dish is called Risotto al Milanese is because the dish was concocted during the construction of the famous Milan cathedral at the beginning of the 16th century. Leonardo da Vinci is known for his contribution of building channels to drain the marshlands of the Po River plains. Is there anything da Vinci couldn’t do?
Have a wonderful Thursday and try some risotto over the weekend.