I’m going to Rome in April! It will be officially six whole years since my trip to the most beautiful city in the world. Six years, people, I was 16 back then. Do you realize how old I am getting? However, now I’ll definitely fit in between the ancient buildings and rich history. So to prepare myself, I revisited my old pictures. Seriously, is there any place better than Rome?
A curious thing I’ve noted was that I did not make any photos of my food back then. I did find some with bottles of wine, but let’s not make those public, shall we? Thus, this trip will also be the first one to Italy where I am going to photograph every little thing that I eat and drink. Be prepared, cause it will be a lot and I will tell you all about it.
What I love about Italian cuisine – besides the taste- is the story behind the recipes. Often named as “La Cucina Povera” or poor man’s kitchen, it offers many nutritious recipes. Of course, as in so many countries, each region has its own characteristics and traditions when it comes to food.
Let’s take a deeper look at one of the most famous dishes… The mighty risotto.
As most of you know, the main ingredient of risotto is, naturally, rice. I’ve been trying to find the exact origin of the name but I cannot make anything out of the combination of the Italian word for rice, riso, and eight, otto. This does not make sense to me. Maybe they used to use eight different rice varieties? Maybe someone was named Otto and like rice so much he decided to make a dish combining the best of both worlds? I don’t know. If any of you have the answer, pleaaaase enlighten me, because I am losing sleep because of this.
During the Middle Ages, exact date or year unknown, but probably somewhere in the 13th or 14th century, Muslims brought rice to Sicily. To this day, I bet the whole of Europe is extremely thankful for that.
Fun fact! Although rice was first introduced in Sicily, risotto is actually eaten most in the Northern regions of Italy!So much for the history lesson. Time to learn about the varieties of risotto rice! You didn’t think you’d get to the recipe that easily, now did you?
There’s 4 varieties which are often used to prepare risotto. Use any other type of rice than these, and you will be unable to make risotto. Surely, it will taste good (for example a pilav, or paella) but do not call it risotto or you’ll have me and tons of Italians to answer to.
Here they are:
- Arborio: This is the most common variety. Can be found in every respectable grocery store. It’s a short-grain rice, with a starchy taste.
- Carnaroli: Second most common variety. As a medium-grain rice, it has a firm texture and is less likely to be overcooked.
- Maratelli: A rare variety, as it completely disappeared in the 80’s. Luckily there are now more rice growers that began cultivating this semi-fine rice again.
- Vialone nano: The only variety to have a Protected Geographical Indication status, meaning that this variety can only be cultivated and processed in 24 municipalities within the Veneto region. It typically cooks faster than other types.
Short-grain Arborio rice
Really, you can use whatever variety you’d like or can get your hands on. Personally, I have only ever used arborio rice, just because it’s easy to find. I would love to know if you have more experience in other varieties. Let me know which one’s your favourite!
To me, in the process of cooking risotto, it is extremely important to toast the rice before adding stock. I have seen some recipes that do not necessarily call for this step, but there is a reason the traditional dish calls for toasted rice – it makes the risotto a lot less creamy. By this I mean, less soup-like. It is almost as if toasting the grains results in the containment of the starch. Supposedly it should also give the risotto a nutty flavour, but to this day I have not tasted that more profoundly. Toasting the rice makes the grains more translucent, which is not only pretty to watch, but is also the moment where you add the wine and the stock, to bring the rice to the boil. Important note: your stock should be simmering, so it will not lower the temperature of the rice when addedThe secret in making risotto is patience. Wait until the stock has been absorbed, wait until the grains are cooked through, wait until the rice has incorporated all the cheese.
It is not only one of the most comforting dishes to eat, but also incredibly soothing to make. I can get lost in watching the changes the rice goes through.Enjoy a glass of red wine, and relax. Put some beautiful music on, such as Zero Assoluto or Eros Ramazzotti to get in the Italian mood, or just listen to my Spotify playlist filled with Italian music…
When you finally reach the point where your risotto has been made to perfection, simply add some rocket lettuce for texture, or don’t, whatever you want.
Eat. Take it easy, take all the flavours in, and drift off to the beautiful landscapes in Italy. To the fresh ingredients available, to the smell of the melting cheese. Think off the gorgeous language (and men, am I right or am I right). Simply revel in the deliciousness.
Basic Risotto recipe
- 1,2 liter (1 and 3/4 pints) of stock
- 10 grams (0.35) butter
- 1 shallot
- 300 grams (10.6 oz) risotto rice (Arborio, carnaroli, maratelli, or vialone nano)
- 50 ml (2 fl oz)dry white wine
- Parmesan or pecorino cheese
- Optional: rocket lettuce
Used kitchen appliances
- Sauté pan
- Wooden spoon
- Heat the stock, and leave it to simmer (not boil!) on low heat.
- In the sauté pan, heat the butter. Finely chop the shallot and add to the pan. Glaze the shallot for about 5 minutes on low heat.
- Throw in the rice, and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the grains are translucent, this will take about 1 minute. Add the wine, and let it evaporate while stirring.
- Using a ladle, add some of the stock. Once the stock has been absorbed by the rice, add some more. Leave the risotto boiling like this for about 15 minutes or until cooked through.
- Add the grated cheese. Optional: add some butter for a more creamy risotto.
Risotto with Bacon and Zucchini
- In a frying pan, bake the bacon for about 2 minutes.
- Add the diced zucchini and leave to cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add to the risotto in step 4 of the basic recipe, when there’s only 5 minutes cooking time left for the risotto