Risotto: Northern Italy’s Classic Comfort Food

Risotto: Northern Italy’s Classic Comfort Food

Risotto: Northern Italy’s Classic Comfort Food

First posted 3/23/2014 – Update 3/26/2021

When it comes to Italian comfort food, you might immediately think of pasta.

Although pasta is a big part of Italian cuisine, in northern Italy another dish reigns supreme.

What dish is it? Risotto. It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy.

Though Risotto is not rice, but rather a particular dish made with rice.

Many types of risotto contain butter, sautéed vegetables, white wine, parmesan cheese and broth.

The broth can be derived from meat, fish, or vegetables.

The Rice Used To Prepare Risotto

It is the rice that makes this dish. What rice is it?

Without exception, Risotto is made from one or more of the following semi-fino rice varieties: Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, and Vialone Nano.

All of these rices have the ability to absorb liquids without over cooking.

The History of Risotto

The story of risotto begins in the 14th century B.C. with the Arabs bringing rice to Sicily and Spain during their rule.

Italy was the ideal place to grow short-grain rice due to the humid weather and abundant flat land.

Till today, the Po Valley (Italy) is one of the largest rice producers in Europe and rice is eaten extensively throughout northern Italy.

Po Valley Rice Fields – photo credit The Telegraph UK

How To Cook Risotto

The rices used to have high starch content, which help to create risotto’s signature creamy consistency.

Before adding any liquid to your rice, sauté the rice in a few tablespoons of olive oil or butter in a hot skillet. This brings out the nutty flavors as it toasts in the oil.

Add hot liquid—whether it be vegetable stock or chicken stock—to the toasted rice so that the starch in the rice is released slowly and cooks evenly.

Add only ½ cup to one cup of liquid at a time, which will prevent the starches from being released all at once.

Only ladle in more stock once the rice has fully absorbed all of the liquid in the pan.

Repeat this until the rice is creamy and al dente.

Though risotto is different than cooking long-grain rice, it’s no more time-consuming than preparing regular rice. It does though require more hands-on cooking.

When cooking risotto, stir frequently but not constantly. Over-stirring can cause too much of the starch to be released at one time, whereas not stirring enough can cause the rice to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Keep the pan over medium heat to encourage the starches to release slowly.

Add 1/2 cup of cheese at the very end of the cooking process as this helps amp up the creaminess of the dish, and can add a salty, umami flavor.

Lastly, season the risotto to taste with more salt, plus fresh herbs, lemon zest or juice, and butter.

Risotto with Pancetta and Peas

Risotto with Pancetta and Peas

What Others are Saying About Risotto:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Delightful Differences between Northern and Southern Italian Cuisine

The Astronomical clock in the Medieval City of Mantua in Lombardy Northern Italy

The Astronomical clock in the Medieval City of Mantua in Lombardy Northern Italy

red checkered table cloth“Let’s go find a good Italian restaurant tonight.” If you immediately envision pasta with lots of red sauce, you are not alone. Italian cuisine is very often lumped into one red-check-tablecloth-covered category.

Yes, this image is part of the Italian culinary experience, but it is only a small part of the whole picture.

If you were to travel the length of Italy, you would find a vast difference in Italian cuisine. This may be a bit surprising considering Italy is only about 800 miles long and 200 miles wide.

How could the cuisine vary so much in such a small area?

The answer lies in the topography. From snowy mountains in the north to sandy beaches in the south, Italy covers every climate known to man. How does this account for the variations in cuisine? Let’s take a look at a few culinary differences and the reasons behind them.

Meat and Seafood

Northern Italy borders Switzerland, Austria, France, and Slovenia and shares their mountainous topography. Although snowy and frigid in some regions, the seas play a part in keeping other areas rather temperate. These warmer temperatures and an abundance of inland lakes and rivers make the northern region ideal for pasturing several types of livestock.  In addition, the region’s inland waters provide refuge for wild game. These rich northern resources result in meals that feature plenty of meat, cream, cheese, and game.

On the other hand, southern Italy has a drier, hotter climate overall and doesn’t have the rich, green pastures and deep woods needed to support livestock and wildlife. It does, however, have a vast coastline with access to large bodies of water. This makes deep sea fishing possible. Since southern Italy is very narrow and surrounded by large bodies of water, you can see why seafood is a staple in every household and why many meals are designed around fresh seafood.

Butter and Olive Oil

As mentioned, the northern climate in Italy with its rich pastures is perfect for raising livestock. Dairy cows are a natural fit for the region, making butter a mainstay in every household.

Olive trees need a sunny, moderate climate to grow and the balmy southern region is a perfect match. As a matter of fact, southern Italy is one of the world’s leading producers of olive oil. You can see why olive oil is a staple in every kitchen in southern Italy.

Root and Vine

Northern Italy’s summers are short. Whatever can be grown in the ground or in the shade will find its way onto the table. You won’t find a lot of ‘red sauce’ in the northern region because tomatoes are not abundant. What you will find is cheesy, cream based dishes, soups, and stews using root vegetables and oftentimes cured meats.

The southern region in Italy is where you’ll find an abundance of world-famous tomato sauce. Thanks to a long growing season, fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs are easy to find in the south. Therefore, fresh is the name of the game in southern Italian cuisine. Lemon, eggplant, tomato, and herbs all play a part in these fresh dishes and are often just tossed lightly with pasta and a drizzle of olive oil.

Although Italy is a relatively small country, the mountainous regions combined with almost 5000 miles of coastline form countless pockets of unique climates, resulting in extreme diversity in the country’s natural and agricultural resources. From north to south, you can see why Italy offers so many culinary differences… and delights!

What Others are Saying About Italian Cuisine:

Enhanced by Zemanta