Ingredient Discovery: Rice

At Sagra del Risotto (Piedmont’s Annual Risotto Festival), rice is always on the menu. Here we share the best ways to enjoy this special Italian export.

Authentic Italian Risotto

To say the people of the Veneto, Lombardy, and Piedmont regions are proud of the rice grown there would be a fair statement – Italy is Europe’s largest rice producer and these regions are Italy’s rice bowl. To say they are extremely proud and very serious about that most iconic of classic Italian dishes – risotto – well, that may actually be a bit of an understatement! Every year since the 13th century, on the first Sunday in May, the town of Sessame, rolls out the red carpet for Piedmont’s Annual Risotto Festival, which includes plenty of risotto tasting.

Get to know Italian rice
Carnaroli, Vialone Nano and Arborio – these are rice varieties grown in Italy and used for risotto. Short and plump, these grains boast high amounts of a sticky starch called amylopectin, which gives risotto that luxurious creamy texture. Carnaroli is considered the finest rice for risotto and has a longer grain than the other two. In North America, Arborio is easy to find in most grocers, and Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are becoming more readily available.

10 tips for an excellent risotto
An authentic, creamy, perfect risotto takes time, the finest truly authentic Italian ingredients, a strong stirring arm, and a few insider tips.

  1. Start with a deep, round pan – copper-bottomed is best for even heat – and a flat wooden spoon with a hole in the middle for stirring.
  2. Use butter – lots of butter – at the beginning of cooking and for finishing.
  3. Cook everything on a low, steady heat.
  4. Toast the rice. Add it to the melted butter and allow it to cook without turning colour. You’ll be able to smell a toasty aroma and feel the heat with your hand.
  5. Allow all the white wine to cook off before adding the first ladle of stock.
  6. Opt for vegetable stock, not chicken or beef, which can overwhelm the flavour of the dish.
  7. Only use salt at the end of cooking, and use a light touch!
  8. Stir in additional ingredients – peas, asparagus tips, mushrooms, meat – once the risotto is cooked to your liking.
  9. Finish by stirring in frozen pieces of butter to make the risotto extra creamy.
  10. Finally, flavour with finely grated Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Buon appetito!

Chef Profile: Giancarlo Morelli
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