“Risotto is the new fashion,” says Franco Zezia of Magica Roma, referring to the sudden flood of risotto-related coverage on television and magazines. He has a point: risotto has never been hipper. A brief glance at Pinterest and you’ll find risotto served inside coconuts and lemons, flavoured with beer or fried into moreish risotto balls (though Aldo Bezzicheri of Il Cappero assures us that Sicilians would be horrified to find individuals making arancini with leftover risotto. The little ‘oranges’ apparently have their own special preparation methods.)
Great though it patently is, risotto can be a little tricky to get right. And since there is not, to our knowledge, an actual risotto crisis hotline, we’ve put together a little guide. Here’s how to make risotto with all the passion of an Italian.
Nothing ruins your lovingly created risotto more than the fake chemical flavour of dried stock. There are some great liquid stocks available now (we’re big fans of Nomu’s liquid fonds and the Woolies liquid stocks), but the best, and cheapest solution is to make your own.
Xolani Shandu, head chef at Marco Nico’s Durban Italian spot, La Storia, leaves his stock in the pizza oven overnight to really let the flavours infuse into the liquid. (If you haven’t got one of those babies at your disposal, follow our guide on how to make great stock.)
Arborio rice is the most common choice, but if you want to take things up a notch, Fortunato Mazzone of Ritrovo Ristorante recommends carnaroli rather than arborio rice. “I prefer the texture and the flavour,” says Forti. Carnaroli is also Heston Blumenthal’s grain of choice for risotto.
It might seem strange, since we’re used to boiling our rice, but allowing the rice to fry in the butter before you add the stock helps to coax the starch out of it, and will help to prevent your risotto becoming gluey. Make sure you do this at a low heat and the rains of rice will absorb the wondrous flavour of butter and fried onions. Some recipes call for olive oil or vegetable oil at this stage, but butter is used more commonly by Italian chefs.
“If you are making risotto, you don’t go away and watch TV,” admonishes Franco Zezia of Magica Roma . We can’t emphasise enough how important this step is, so for the best results, chop and measure out all your ingredients before you start cooking, so you don’t get distracted. And if you’re the impatient type, take precautions. “I find it best if you have a glass of wine in one hand, and a spoon in the other. If you get bored while contantly stirring, you can take a sip of wine,” advises Eat Out editor-in-chief Anelde Greeff. She also recommends having company in the kitchen. “That way you don’t have to think about your day.”
Risotto is an excellent foil for ingredients, so keep it simple and use the best quality you can afford. At Il Cappero in Camps Bay, Aldo Bezzicheri changes his risotto in accordance with what’s seasonal and most delicious at the time. You might find risotto made with fresh porcinis, saffron or baby marrows. “One of the best is risotto pere e gorgonzola,” says Aldo, which is made with pear and gorgonzola cheese. At La Storia in Durban, Xolani makes his own Italian sausage for the Italian sausage and saffron risotto, while the risotto nero with scallops and basil cream is coloured with squid ink. (We also love the sound of the calamari, chorizo, chilli and black olive risotto and the chilli, shrimp, lemon zest and rocket risotto.)
This, sadly, is not one of those dishes you can prepare the day before your dinner party. “I find that most restaurants make dreadful risotto as it takes a lot of care not to make a glutinous pappy mess, especially if it has been pre-prepared,” says Ritrovo’s Fortunato. Aldo of Il Cappero is of the same school of thought. “Nothing is precooked, so we do not risk having a gluey risotto when we serve it. That can happen easily if you pre-cook it and let it stand for hours … maybe in a fridge, too. Disgusting!” He warns customers that risottos take 20-25 minutes to prepare.
Good risotto comes to those who wait. Employ patience while frying your onions (or you’ll wind up with a jarring raw onion flavour), patience while stirring, patience while adding the stock, bit by bit, and you too will be a risotto virtuoso. This is not a quick dish, but then, as Aldo declares, “If you are in hurry, the best solution is McDonalds!”
Ready to roll up your sleeves? Here are seven risotto recipes to get you started.
Antonio Carluccio’s mushroom risotto
The king of Italian cooking does an excellent rendition of this classic.
Asparagus and fresh pea risotto
Crisp asparagus spears and fresh peas make for a lovely mix of textures in this recipe.
Here at Eat Out, we think avocados are the greatest and see no reason why their gorgeous creamy flesh shouldn’t be combined with risotto, which is also the greatest. Fold in the avocado right at the end though, or you’ll end up with a scary green soup.
Baby beetroot blue cheese and walnut risotto
Earthy beets pair beautifully with tangy blue cheese and sweet, crunchy walnuts.
Beetroot and barley risotto
This is one to try once you’ve perfected your technique. The creation of Grant Cullingworth of The Westin Cape Town, it contrasts tangy pickled mustard seeds with earthy beets and fresh crunchy greens.
Garlic and chilli prawns with lemon risotto
A hint of spice and fragrant lemon zest make this a winner.