Risotto's Secrets

Risotto giallo con porcini secchi
(Saffron risotto with dried porcini mushrooms)

Risotto is  global. Restaurants and Risotterie serve many varieties of risotto around the world.  Risotto is a comfort food so versatile that it pleases almost everyone and it can be easily made at home as well, if you know the rules and secrets. A perfect risotto needs to have the right texture and flavour.
The choice of ingredients is vital.

The rice should be Italian: it absorbs cooking liquid without breaking, and releases the starch, essential to create the creaminess of the dish.
Among the Italian rices (Carnaroli, Arborio and Vialone Nano), the Carnaroli is my favourite: it keeps al dente for longer.

The ideal stock should be homemade few hours in advance. leave it to cool down in the pot. This would allow the ingredients to release all their full flavours.
For a good vegetarian stock, use a variety of vegetables, never forgetting green peas  (at least 250g for 2 litres of water), which give sweetness to the dish. Exclude cabbage: it is overpowering.

Shortcuts for a quick vegetarian stock

To speed up your stock making, you could finely chop your vegetables: they will cook quicker.
If  you need to make a last-minute stock, choose good-quality cubes (preferably organic, gluten and yeast free) and add chopped vegetables such as leek, carrot and onion, together with 200 g of green peas, a bunch of parsley, stems included, and a bay leaf. Let it simmer for 30 minutes and strain. The stock is ready for your risotto, with quite a natural flavour.

    Making Risotto

    The Pan: the best risotto pan should be  heavy-based, wide, deep and with an handle. It will prevent the onion and the rice from burning and it will make it easier to stir.
    Soften the onion: to start risotto, finely chop a medium onion and soften it in a generous amount of fat  until translucent. Stir frequently using a wooden spoon so it doesn't brown.
    Traditionally risotto was made only with butter. In our healthy times, we could compromise by using half butter and half oil. However, it is essential to keep at least a knob of butter in the initial onion soffritto.
    Tostatura: increase the heat and add the rice to the softened onion, stirring continuously to coat the grains in the fat for a few minutes. This is tostatura;  the process which coats and seals each grain of rice. The rice will start to sizzle and turn translucent, sticking to the bottom of the pan. At this stage add the wine.

    Adding wine:  use a very good-quality wine, preferably red, if you make a risotto with meat, white with vegetables or fish. Prosecco or champagne are also good to accompany rice and enhance the risotto flavour.
    Let the wine evaporate for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
    Adding stock: Bring the stock to the boil while the onion is softening  and keep it simmering gently until you start adding it to your risotto. Do not over boil the stock as it will reduce and alter the flavours.
    Add the stock gradually, a ladelful at a time, so that the rice can absorb the flavour.
    Keep stirring, scraping the sides and the bottom of the pan.
    When almost all the stock is absorbed, add another ladelful of liquid. It is important to stir all the time so every grain absorbs the stock at the same rate.
    Near the end of cooking, add just half ladles of stock at a time to keep control of the moistness and creaminess of the rice and avoid overcooking it.
    The rice will take 18 minutes to cook al dente.
    Final touch: after 17 minutes, or when the risotto is almost cooked, thick and creamy, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in butter or double cream and freshly grated Parmesan. Cover the pan with a tea towel and let it rest just for 1 minute.
    Remove from the pan and serve at once on hot plates.

    Risotto giallo con porcini secchi
    Risotto with saffron and dried porcini mushrooms

    350 g Carnaroli rice
    20 g good-quality dried porcini
    30 g butter
    1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    1 medium onion, very finely chopped
    100 ml Prosecco wine
    Approx 800 ml vegetable stock
    ½ teaspoon powdered saffron
    100 ml double cream
    50 g freshly grated Parmesan
    Sea salt

    Serves 4
    Preparation time: 10 minutes
    Cooking time: 30 minutes

    1. Soak the dried mushroom in tepid water for 10 minutes.
    2. Bring the stock to a gentle simmer.
    3. In a heavy-based saucepan heat the butter and the oil and soften the onion with a pinch of salt over a low heat for about 10 minutes, until translucent. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon.
    4. Add the rice and sauté over medium-height heat for 3 minutes, stirring continuously until the outside of the grains becomes translucent and the rice begins to stick to the bottom of the pan.
    5. Now pour in the Prosecco and stir continuously until the liquid has been almost absorbed for about 2 minutes.
    6. Lower the heat and add one ladleful of boiling stock at a time. Stir frequently until the stock has nearly been absorbed before adding the next ladleful.
    7. After 10 minutes, add the saffron dissolved in little stock and the dried porcini with their soaking liquid. Bring it back to the boil and gradually add the stock, keeping the rice moist and creamy. It takes about 18 minutes to cook it al dente.
    8. When the rice is cooked (it must be al dente and creamy at the same time), remove the pan from the heat, stir in the cream and half of the Parmesan cheese. Give a good stir and cover with a tea towel and leave to stand for 1 minute.
    9. Serve at once on hot plates, with a good sprinkle of Parmesan on top.

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