If you have never made it before, the risotto technique may seem unusual. No other culture prepares rice in quite the same way as the Italians do, though the technique is similar to making pilaf, where the rice is sautéed and then cooked, and the cooking liquid absorbed. The idea is to cook the rice so that it releases its starch and forms a creamy sauce. The finished rice should be tender, yet still firm to the bite-al dente. The grains will have absorbed the flavors of the other ingredients and be surrounded by a creamy liquid. For best results, risotto needs to be eaten immediately after it is cooked or it may become dry and mushy.
Risotto is at its best when cooked at home. Few restaurants can devote as much time to the cooking of risotto as is needed, though it really isn't very long. In fact, many restaurant kitchens partially precook the rice, then cool it. When someone orders risotto, the rice is reheated, and liquid is added with whatever flavoring ingredients are needed to finish the cooking.
Once you understand the procedure, making risotto is quite simple and can be adapted to many different ingredient combinations. The first step in making risotto is getting the right type of rice. Long-grain rice, such as we commonly find in the United States, is not suitable for making risotto because it does not have the right kind of starch. Medium-grain rice, usually sold as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano varieties, has a kind of starch that releases from the grains when cooked and stirred with broth or another liquid. The starch binds with the liquid and becomes creamy.
Medium-grain rice imported from Italy is widely available in supermarkets. It is also grown in the United States and is now easy to find.
You will also need good chicken, meat, fish, or vegetable broth. Homemade is preferable, but canned (or boxed) broth can be used. I find store-bought broth too strong to use straight out of the container and often dilute it with water. Remember that packaged broth, unless you use a low-sodium variety, contains a lot of salt, so adjust any added salt accordingly. Boullion cubes are very salty and artificial-tasting, so I do not use them.
From "1,000 Italian Recipes." Copyright 2004 by Michele Scicolone. Used with permission of the publisher, Wiley Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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