Risotto is a classic Italian rice dish.
Although there are plenty of discussions circulating in books and on the internet about the origin of the word risotto, no clear idea emerges consistently. From my perspective, risotto can only mean one thing – an Italian rice dish that exploits the properties of certain short grain Italian rice varieties to create a semi-fluid and creamy dish – a preparation made with vegetables, fish, meat or spices.
A risotto is made by gently sautéing the rice in extra virgin olive oil, often with chopped onions or shallots. Hot broth is added, one ladleful at a time, over medium-high heat until the liquid mostly disappears through evaporation and absorption. After 12-20 minutes, depending on the rice variety, the rice dish becomes rich and creamy while maintaining a moist consistency. The rice grains should have a slight bite in the interior of the softened grain – in other words, al dente.
Risotto is a tricky dish to make correctly. See my 7 tips for making an excellent vegan risotto if you are looking for ideas on preparing a risotto at home.
Italy produces many different varieties of rice that are ideal for making a risotto. Look for superfino types that include the following varieties:
Arborio: By far the most popular variety of risotto rice used outside of Italy. This short grain variety releases a lot of starch when it is cooked and produces a creamy risotto. It requires 18-20 minutes to cook al dente, and it will absorb large quantities of broth. I like using arborio rice with non-starchy vegetables like artichokes or mushrooms.
Baldo: This Piedmontese variety is a relative newcomer to the risotto rice assortment. It is like Arborio rice in many ways and produces a very creamy risotto with a rich flavor. Baldo varieties require 17-19 minutes to cook. This is an excellent variety for vegetables of all types – and especially appropriate for non-starchy vegetables like mushrooms.
Carnaroli: Many chefs like to refer to this variety as the “king of risotto” rice – including the chef I learned from during my time in Italy. Carnaroli produces a creamy risotto, resists breaking or overcooking and cooks to al dente in 16-18 minutes. I consider Carnaroli as an “all arounder” – it works well with all vegetables and mushrooms.
Vialone Nano: This has the smallest grain of all the risotto varieties. It absorbs liquids quickly and cooks in 14-16 minutes – an ideal variety for quickly cooked seafood or fish risotto common in the Venice area. I also favor this variety when using risotto rice as a thickening agent in soups or to form filled balls of rice like my baked arancini with kale and capers.
Jack’s Fresh Tip
- LaRousse Gastronomique
- On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee
- Il Grande Libro della Cucina Veneta, Alessandro Molinari Pradelli
- Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan