Risotto is a rice dish originating from Italy, particularly the Northern Italian region. It is a very popular food made by sautéing the rice in olive oil, onion, garlic or whatever herbs the recipe calls for then adding ladles of simmering stock at a time while constantly stirring, until the rice absorbs the stock. Cooking or “toasting” the rice in hot oil or butter is essential to help the rice absorb liquid more easily producing a tender but not mushy rice dish. It usually takes about 20 to 25 minutes to cook a risotto.
The secret to a perfect risotto lies in using Arborio rice, which is a short grain variety capable of absorbing large amounts of liquid while keeping its shape. The starchy rice when combined with the stock during cooking creates a wonderful sauce giving risotto its nice and creamy appearance. Along with its basic ingredients oil, onion starchy rice, hot stock and cheese, a risotto can be made using many kinds of vegetables and legumes, meat, poultry, seafood, fish and any type of wine and cheese. You can even include fruits of your taste.
Aside from Arborio rice, other Italian short-grain varieties are Vialone Nano, Carnaroli and Baldo. Short-grain rice is starchy which Italians find the most perfect rice for risotto. When cooking a traditional risotto, it is best to use a cast iron heavy-bottomed pan or skillet. Cast iron works better by transferring even the lowest heat to the food extremely well and the even distribution of heat during slow cooking helps starch release from the rice producing marvelous results.
A traditional Italian risotto dish is completely satisfying. It can be simple or complex. If you’re in Italy, you will experience the many versions of full-flavored risottos from all-vegetable to fish to meat and poultry to mouth-watering cheese risottos. This creamy Italian rice dish is a versatile food. You can serve it as a main course, a side dish and you can use leftover risottos to make a new dish like rice cakes and fried rice balls or simply use it to thicken soups or broth.
Although Risotto is easy to prepare, the first time you make it may not be the best. It may take some time to learn but once you’ve mastered the technique, it would be easy to make your own risotto dishes for all occasions. Here is a traditional Italian Vegetable Risotto recipe that you could start with.
• 1 medium zucchini
• 10-ounce pumpkin or squash wedge
• 1 beefsteak tomato
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 large onion
• 4 cups hot stock (chicken or vegetable)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 cup risotto rice
• 1 tablespoon dry sherry wine (or any wine)
• 4 canned artichoke hearts, drained
• Salt and pepper
• 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley
Trim zucchini and cut into small cubes. Peel pumpkin or squash, remove seeds and cut into cubes. Cover tomato with boiling water for 30 seconds then plunge into cold water. Peel away skin, remove seeds and cut into fourths. Peel onion and garlic and slice finely. Bring stock or broth to boil then simmer. In a large heavy-based skillet, heat the oil and slightly sauté the onions. Add the risotto rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the garlic then the sherry wine. Gradually add stock in small batches, stirring over low to medium heat until every batch of liquid has been absorbed. Let it sit for about 20 minutes to cook.
Add remaining stock along with the zucchini and squash and cook for 10 minutes more, stirring constantly. Cut artichoke hearts into fourths and add into risotto, Season with salt and pepper then transfer to warm soup bowls. Sprinkle each with tiny-chopped tomato and garnish with parsley leaves.