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sept 29 risotto tips

September 28, 1999



Italian Cooking Terms



Risotto: The dish that results from a specific way of cooking short-grain rice, where hot stock is added to the rice, a little at a time, as the rice absorbs it.

Soffritto: The first step in making risotto, where aromatic flavorings such as minced onion, shallots or leeks are sauted in butter, olive oil or a combination of both, for several minutes.

Tostatura: Toasting the rice to seal in the starch.

Brodo: Broth, wine or other cooking liquid used to cook the rice.

Condimenti: Ingredients added to flavor risotto: herbs, spices, meats, vegetables, seafood, cheese and so on.

Mantecatura: The final step in making risotto, when butter or olive oil and grated cheese are vigorously incorporated into the risotto, binding the ingredients and achieving a creamy texture.

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Micol Negrin, culinary director at New York City's Italian Culinary Center and editor of La Cucina Italiana magazine; Gianni Scappin, chef-consultant and co-author of the forthcoming "Cucina & Famiglia" (William Morrow); and Luca Marcato, chef-owner of Luca, a Manhattan restaurant, offer these risotto tips.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Equipment: Use a heavy pot, ideally copper, because it distributes heat well, but stainless steel will work. Also, make sure it's a pot with good handles for all that stirring, and use a wooden spoon.

Ingredients: Use fresh, top-grade, seasonal ingredients. These may include Swiss chard, collard greens, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash and pumpkin in late summer and fall; high-quality short-grain rice; extra-virgin olive oil; homemade stock if possible and good Parmesan cheese.

Scappin advises keeping vegetarian risottos simple and mild-tasting, because "you want to taste the creaminess of the rice." He recommends combining delicately flavored vegetables such as artichokes, zucchini and peas that "create a little family because they get along together."

He cautions against putting together strong-tasting vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, roasted red peppers or beets, since the flavors can overwhelm the taste of the risotto.

Soffritto: This is the risotto's aromatic flavor base. Sweat - saut in a covered vessel - onions or shallots in the chosen fat (olive oil, butter or a combination of both) over medium-low heat until translucent but not brown.

Toasting the rice: Adding the rice to the saucepan on the heat without any liquid is an important step, because how it is done can determine the final texture of the risotto. Toasting the rice quickly heats up the grain's exterior, prevents it from breaking and seals in the starch.

Negrin recommends toasting approximately 4 minutes. Scappin suggests toasting the rice until it is hot to the touch. And the color should remain pearly white, not turn brown.

Stock: Use vegetable stock for vegetable-based risottos. For risottos with meat and poultry, try to use stock of the same meat or poultry.

Add hot stock, not cold, to the rice during the cooking process. Adding cold broth to hot rice results in a hard, uncooked kernel in the center of the grain. Negrin recommends adding more stock, about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup, at the beginning, and decreasing the amount to 1/2 to 1/4 cup toward the end of the cooking process. Adding too much broth at the end can result in overcooked risotto.

At the point of adding hot broth to the rice, have the heat at medium-low or medium.

Rice al dente: Begin tasting the rice about 14 to 16 minutes after the first cup of broth is added. Cook the rice until it is "al dente," or as Negrin describes it, when "the tooth still finds a little bit of resistance when it bites in when you chew. It shouldn't be rock hard in the center and mushy on the outside."

Mantecatura: This is the last, essential step, when butter or olive oil and Parmesan cheese are vigorously stirred into the risotto off the heat. This step binds the ingredients together, giving it that desirable creaminess.

At the mantecatura stage, a vegetable puree may be used as a low-fat alternative to butter. However, Marcato recommends finishing vegetarian risottos with butter to balance the acidity if wine or tomatoes have been added.

Aim for creamy texture. Perfectly cooked risotto should not be hard and stick to the serving spoon, nor should it be so liquid that it runs off your plate. The texture should be supple and fluid, with a creamy, slightly soupy consistency, but with body.

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