The first version of cooking risotto comes from Mantova and is called Riso alla Pilota. ‘Piloti’ was the name given to the workers responsible for husking rice, and this method was created so that while they worked, they could have their rice cooking, left unattended and ready for lunch. Some water was put into a pot and left on the stove to cook. Rice was poured into the pot to form a pyramid so that 2cm of rice stuck out from the top of the water level. The rice was left to cook for 10-12 minutes and then the heat turned was off the pot, it was covered, and was left to sit for another 10 minutes to finish cooking. In the mean time some sausage was cooked in some butter and then stirred through the rice with a generous serving of Grana Padano. The rice used was always Vialone Nano.
The entire cooking time for risotto is 20 minutes. 80g of rice is generally allocated per person.
The first ingredient of our Risotto is onion. The onion is chosen depending on the desired flour and its match with other ingredients to be added later. The onion should be finely chopped, as this gives more flavour to the risotto. It is then slowly cooked in some good quality and flavourful butter, or olive oil, or a mixture of both. Once the onion is translucent, the rice is added.
The desired rice to be added should be of the superfine variety and Canaroli and Vialone Nano are considered the best. The rice is added to the butter and should be toasted until it becomes translucent and almost begins to colour. This is an important step, not only to accentuate the flavour of the rice, but also to seal the grain an control the leakage of starch so the risotto does not become sticky and gluggy. The rice should be stirred constantly to allow for an even toasting of grains.
Once the rice has been perfectly toasted, it is lightly bathed in a little wine. The choice of wine, red or white depends on the desired final outcome of the risotto, but a full bodied dry wine is preferred. The wine should be added on a high heat so that the alcohol evaporates and stirring at this point should be minimal.
A good quality stock that has been well skimmed is essential. The stock should not be salted, as salting is done during the cooking of the risotto with a good quality sea salt. The flavour of the stock depends on the type of risotto being made. It is preferred to make a very neutral stock, either of simple vegetables (carrots, celery, onion) or mixed meats. Depending on the type of risotto that you are making, more pungent stocks can be added towards then end of cooking to compliment the flavours of your risotto, eg. Asparagus, artichoke, fish. The stock is added a little at a time, and the next addition is made when the previous has been almost completely absorbed. The stock is always hot when added to the risotto. The risotto should be constantly stirred, being careful that no loose grains are left on the side of the pot, and always incorporated into the risotto. We should finish adding the stock once the rice is almost cooked and aldente (about 15-18minutes) and remember that the rice will continue to cook in the final stages.
Is probably the most important stage of the process and is considered the ‘trick to making a perfect risotto’.
Once we have finished adding stock, we cover the rice pot with a cloth and let it sit for 2 minutes to finish cooking and absorb some of the stock left in the pan. After this, cold butter and cheese is added to the pot, and the rice is ‘bashed’ by forcefully moving the pot back and forth. The rice is almost tossed as if sauteing a pasta. The amount of cheese should never be more than approximately 15g per person and should never exceed 180g per kilo of rice.
Risotto should be served immediately and piping hot. It is not a dish that is kept well. During service, risotto can be recovered by adding a little hot broth if it dries out, but is not recommended. When making risotto in large quantities, start one pot a little after another to allow for serving times.
The 10 Commandments of Risotto
- Always use a heavy based flat bottom pot that is not too high. (stock pots are not suitable)
- 80g of rice per person
- Canaroli and Vialone are the only two rice varieties suggested for risotto
- Do not salt your stock, salt your risotto
- Wine should be added on high heat and the heat reduced when adding HOT stock
- Remember to collect any loose grains of rice that get caught on the sides of the pot
- Allow risotto to sit before adding cheese and butter which are always added off the heat
- Butter should always be cold, preferably cubed and added straight from the freezer
- Cheese should never be more than 180g per kilo of rice
- Risotto should be served immediately