All About Risotto in Italian Food
By Chef K.T. Murphy
There is really no definitive answer as to how rice arrived in Italy. However, as soon as it made its way to Italy in the fourteenth century, most likely from Spain, it became a hit in Italian food. Areas of the country outside of Milan have the perfect blend of flat land, water, and humidity to make rice cultivation a very successful endeavor. The intensive rice cultivation that began in the fourteenth century has continued and has made rice a staple in regional Italian food.
Perhaps the most popular example of rice in Italian food is in risotto. Although risotto is considered a very serious dish in Italian food, it actually started out as a joke. As the legend goes a young apprentice was staining the glass used in the Duomo di Milano, a magnificent gothic cathedral, in 1574. He was relentlessly teased because it looked as if he had added saffron to pigments in order to obtain more vibrant and brilliant colors. When it came time for his master’s wedding, he decided to play a little joke to show how tired he was of the teasing. So, he added saffron to the rice that was to be served at the wedding. The plan backfired and the rice was so popular amongst the wedding guests that it became the staple of Italian food that we know today.
There are four main components to the risotto we know in Italian food today. The first is the soffritto. Sometimes this can be special ingredients specific to the type of risotto being made. However, it is typically a mixture of vegetables, butter, oil, and onions. This mixture is sautéed in the same skillet where the rice will later be cooked. The next component is the broth. The broth can be homemade or canned and can be beef, chicken, vegetable, or fish. The third component is the flavoring ingredient. This is the component that will give the risotto its specific flavor. This can range from vegetables to meat, truffles, or the ingredient that started it all, saffron. Now of course, the final component is Italian rice. The rice that is used in Italian food is made up of large grains with lots of starch. This rice is perfect for risotto because it can absorb large amounts of liquid and still remain firm.
Risotto is a very popular Italian food dish, but it is also one of the most botched Italian food dishes because of the precise way in which the rice is prepared. Some tips to making it successfully at home include not washing the rice. If you were to wash the rice beforehand it would eliminate much of the starch that is needed to make good Italian food. There are also different types of Italian food rice and you will want to pick the rice that is most appropriate for your recipe. All rice is not created equal so check your recipe and cookbooks to decide which rice is best to use. You’ll also want to use a double-bottom sauté pan.
This will keep the heat uniform to make sure the rice cooks evenly. It is important to sauté the rice until it is toasted before adding the broth. However, don’t cook it too long or it will harden. This is the most important part of making an authentic Italian food risotto, make sure the rice is toasted. After that it is all downhill. Just follow these tips and pretty soon you’ll be cooking like a professional Italian food chef.