Carnaroli: The Best Rice for Risotto
Risotto, the classic northern Italian rice dish has become popular around the world. And, not only on restaurant menus, home cooks worldwide are preparing this delicious primi (first course) for their families and friends. To achieve the authentic texture and consistency, the proper rice for risotto must be used. In Italy, risotto is made with one of three varieties of rice, Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano. Characteristically, all three of these short grain, starchy types of Italian rice have the ability to absorb liquid and release their starch in the cooking process. In my humble opinion, Carnaroli, by far, is the best rice for risotto. In its' basic preparation, the grains of rice are first toasted in butter or olive oil usually with onions (tostatura) until thoroughly coated, then liquid (wine and stock) is added gradually. With constant stirring, the rice releases its' starch into the liquid creating a rich cream-like broth. The rice absorbs these liquids, but still maintains its' shape and texture. In a properly made risotto, the grains should remain separate and still retain an al dente texture. Arborio is too easy to overcook (mushy and sticky) and Vialone Nano cooks too quickly (its smaller than the other two varieties). Carnaroli is superior for preparing a traditional Italian risotto.
Don't misunderstand, a good risotto can still be made using these other types of Italian rice. Arborio, by far is the most accessible. But, Carnaroli is becoming readily available in the gourmet section of most supermarkets. Vialone Nano is hard to find, usually only by mail order.
If you want to get a little adventurous, try using other healthy grains. Technically, it's not risotto , but they're fun to experiment with. I've used barley, faro (wheat berries ) and even lentils. The cooking times are longer, but the results are worth it.
Risotto is a very simple dish to make at home. It's healthy and has that satisfying richness (without using cream ). Just a little butter or olive oil, onion, risotto rice and vegetable or meat broth (low sodium canned broth works great ). Adding seasonal vegetables just increases the wonderful taste of this Italian classic.
Spring: Asparagus, Peas, Mushrooms (preferably Morels)
Summer: Tomatoes, Corn, Fresh herbs, Bell pepper, zucchini
Fall: Butternut squash, Cavalo Nero (dinosaur kale), Swiss chard
Winter: Root vegetables (carrots, parsnips) broccoli
*Note: I'm intending to provide more detailed recipes later this month
Mangia Bene!!! Ciao.
How to Make A Basic Risotto
1 cup of Carnaroli rice
1/2 medium onion diced
1 clove of garlic minced
1Tbsp. Butter or Olive Oil * see notes
3 cups of Vegetable or Meat broth * see notes
1 cup of white wine (optional)
1/2 lb. of seasonal vegetables (optional) chopped in bite size pieces
1/4 cup of Parmesan Cheese (optional)
In a heavy high-sided pan, heat butter or oil over medium heat, sweat onion until translucent, add garlic and continue to sauté until you smell it's aroma. Add Carnaroli rice stirring until it becomes opaque ( you'll see a tiny dot in the center of the grains). At this point add the wine, if using, and allow to reduce until you can see the bottom of the pan (almost totally evaporated). Begin adding broth by ladle fulls and increase heat to medium high. Stir risotto constantly while adding more broth as needed for approximately 15 minutes or until rice is al dente (a slight bit toothsome). The consistency should be "wavey" or "lava-like". Here, my friends, is the most important step, begin vigorously stirring the risotto (this is called mantecare), adding a small amount of butter and parmesan cheese until everything is well incorporated. Serve immediately, a risotto waits for no one...
* the broth doesn't need to be simmering, that's you're call. It's fine at room temperature. If you want to add a little more depth of flavor to a risotto with seasonal vegetables, buy extra and simmer them in the broth. (e.g. asparagus, broccoli or even mushrooms)
** In Italy, Butter is the staple in the North and Olive Oil is generally used in the South. Occasionally, I will use a combination of both.
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