During my recent visit to Piedmont in Northern Italy, I discovered the importance of checking that the risotto rice you using is authentic. Under Italian law manufacturers can say the rice is from Piedmont on the box and put another kind inside. Piedmont inhabitants eat more rice than anybody else in Italy, 10 kilos a year compared to six kilos for the rest of the country. Yet Italy grows the most rice in Europe (although it is at the northernmost limit of the global rice growing zone, the rice belt, producing only one rice crop a year). Risotto rice is the same family as sushi rice, ivory and round.
Rice is arguably healthier than pasta: low GI, good for diabetes and filling. I can eat 300g of pasta but never more than 100g of rice. It possesses that wonderful quality – satiety.
For portions, it is traditional in Italy to use one espresso cup measure per person and one for the pot.
To get the creaminess that a good risotto requires:
- Use only the best new season rice
- Use the correct rice (Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Baldo)
- Add hot stock in small quantities as you cook
- Keep stirring till glossy
- Ideally use a copper saucepan or pot. I’ve made two risottos side by side, one in a good stainless steel pan and one in a tin lined copper pan. The one cooked in the copper was noticeably creamier.
- Don’t cook it until it is a bowl of porridge-like stodge, you want it to be looser. But the rice should retain a little bite in the centre.
- Italians look for ‘alla onda’, which means ‘with waves’. When you draw a line through the risotto with your spoon, the rice should fall back into the parting of the wave.
- 100 g Hazelnuts
- 50 g Butter
- 2 Shallots or ideally, sweet white onions, chopped
- 300 g Piedmontese risotto rice such as Vialone Nano, Baldo or Carnaroli.
- 1 glass White wine
- 2 litres Vegetable or mushroom stock, hot
- 50 g Pecorino cheese or local Piedmontese cheese
- 30-50 g Butter
- Sea salt
- White pepper
- a few drops Hazelnut oil
- Toast the hazelnuts lightly, taking care not to scorch them
- Using a heavy bottomed saucepan on a medium low heat, add the butter and onions and soften.
- Add the rice and stir continually, making sure neither the onions nor the rice gets burnt.
- Then when it is hot enough, add the glass of white wine, stirring.
- Simmer for a few minutes then add the hot vegetable stock, ladle by ladle until each is absorbed by rice.
- Coming up to 20 minute mark, beat in the cheese and butter.
- Adjust seasoning, sea salt and white pepper
- Add the hazelnuts, leaving some whole for the top
- Remove from the heat and add a drizzle of hazelnut oil