I can confirm that some risotto recipes out there can be quite intimidating to those who haven’t made risotto before! Unlike your everyday Asian rice cooked in a slow-cooker, risottos are to be treated with particular care in a pan.
Speaking of Asian, a friend of mine, a sweet girl who constantly has rice for her dinner, has never had risotto in her life! She said that anything similar to porridge would never ever be found on her plate, in any universe or dimension.
To this, I simply responded: “Honey, take a seat and prepare to be amazed.”
What is risotto and what makes it creamy?
Unlike Asian rice, risotto is a short-grain type of rice that isn’t cooked in plain water, but rather in a flavorful stock which serves as the main seasoning of the dish.
The reason behind the creaminess is amylopectin. This substance, a kind of starch, is sticky and responsible for making the dish the way it is. As they are cooked and stirred around, the outer starch layer of these little Italian citizens gets mixed in with the stock and thickens it, which explains the signature texture of risotto.
Of course, besides the huge “Risotto” printed on the package, you need to understand how each type of short-grain rice behaves. Below are several kinds which are selected on a regular basis:
- Carnaroli: A medium-grain type that is mostly grown in the Northern part of Italy. Thanks to its extremely high starch content, it manages to stay in shape and still produces enough starch to make the surrounding broth super creamy when cooked.
- Arborio: A short-grain type that is grown in… Arborio. It’s not as starchy as Carnaroli, but is widely sold in markets and serves billions of households per day.
- Baldo: Rarely seen, this variety has a similar texture to Arborio rice. The small amount of time it takes to cook is, however, an asset for you to consider, whether you’re making a to-go or a homey meal.
- Vialone Nano: This flat-grain grows mainly in Veneto, and is able to absorb twice as much liquid as Arborio while still maintaining its shape and makes any Risotto dish creamy.
Risotto Recipes: Rice to avoid
Not all rice contains the aforementioned amylopectin.
I’m just going to start simply: Rice contains starch, which takes up the largest portion of your carb intake.
Got that? Good. There are 2 types of starch: amylopectin and amylose, and the latter isn’t sticky at all. This is due to the difference at a molecular level: an amylopectin chain is up to 30 times longer than an amylose chain. The longer the chains are, the easier it is to be tangled to one another, therefore making it sticky.
Got that? Excellent. So how should you know which contains amylose to avoid? It’s quite surprising that the answer to this science-y question lies within the length of the grains.
Long-grain rice mostly contains amylose, which lets itself cook up fluffy and separated from each other. Short-grain or medium-grain rice contains lots of amylopectin, which should be the one to consider when making risotto.
How to cook risotto
As mentioned above, the rice needs your utmost care, so don’t leave your risotto unattended! Also, don’t just put in plain water. It needs to be pampered with either meat or vegetable stock. The process simply goes: toast the grains and simmer with stock until creamy and tender.
According to my research, the required cooking time varies depending on not the recipe, but the type of grain itself. Among the ones mentioned, Baldo takes the fastest to cook, so do keep an eye on things. Basically, just simmer and stir it around until it looks creamy and tastes soft.
Other recipes than butternut squash
I guess you didn’t attend my previous lecture on rice. Oh wait, you did? Then tell me, is rice versatile?
Yes, of course it is! And by versatile, I mean that it goes well with almost anything! Chicken strips, crumbs of bacon, chunks of beef or pork or of veggies, you name it. Just be sure that the stock contains a low amount of salt (or at best, no salt at all) so you could adjust the flavor later on as you cook.
Oh and uh, to my beloved Asian audience: don’t season your risotto with fish sauce or soy sauce, ‘mkay? ‘Mkay.
Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe
- 1 cup rice Arborio or thick grain Italian risotto rice
- 2 tbsp mint chopped
- 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese grated
- 3 tbsp garlic 2 cloves, minced
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- 1/2 lb butternut squash cubed
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 2 shallots diced
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- Simmer the stock in a medium saucepan and set aside.
- In a wide pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and sautée the garlic, onion until soft. Add the cumin powder and chili flakes and stir for another 30 seconds.
- Add cubes of squash along with the rice. Toast everything for about 2 minutes, then start adding the stock, ⅓ cup at a time (avoid letting it dry out).
- Keep adding and cooking for about 15-18 minutes or until creamy. Add in butter, cheese and season with salt and pepper.
- Fold in fresh chopped herbs and serve immediately.