Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Episode 72: How to Make Risotto

I love risotto. I could make and eat it every day. I love everything about it; the prep, the process, the flexibility, the flavor. And with the one exception of an ill-fated butternut squash version about which no one is allowed to speak, I'm very good at making it.

But this story is about something else! Although risotto-related. When I was in Italy, lo these many years ago, I went to Venice with my friends Beth and Thom and oh my my before the trip we would not shut up about how excited we were about getting to eat some risotto in Venice, where risotto has its origins. Risotto risotto risotto, we would not shut up about it. By the time we got to Venice, in Week III, however, there were a lot of other foods we had not shut up about. When we were in Piemonte, we would not shut up about white truffles. White truffles, white truffles, white truffles! When we were in Chianti, we would not shut up about cinghiale, the wild boar. Cinghiale, cinghiale, cinghiale! When we were in Lucca, we would not shut up about chestnuts. Chestnuts, chestnuts, chestnuts! You get the idea. And maybe you hate us already. But that's okay! I hate us too.

In other words, we were fooded out by the time we got to Venice and we forgot ALL ABOUT our obsession with risotto. And so on the last night in Venice, we were in some restaurant in Dorsoduro and uh-oh, there it was on the menu...risotto! So Beth said "I'll have risotto!" and the lady said "no risotto! Risotto only for two!" So I said "oh, okay, then in that case I'll have the risotto as well!" and the lady smiled and said "si, risotto for two!" And then Thom said "I'll have risotto as well!" and the lady said "no! risotto only for two!" It's so labor intensive they would only make it in batches for people in pairs and this odd number was really causing some problems. It was very traumatic and somehow the lady made us feel like the ugliest Americans in the history of ugly Americans, this while another table of Americans kept saying "Eye-talian" this and "Eye-talian" that.

So we ended up not ordering it at all! We never did get to eat risotto in Venice, which is why I hate that fucking place. I hope that city sinks into the goddamned ocean.

P.S. I don't really hate you, Venice!


Anonymous said...

Kat asks: If I'm out of arborio, can I make risotto with regular rice (e.g., Jasmine)? Because you made me want to make risotto tonight and I'm out of arborio.

Katharine Weber said...

Wait, wait, a few things.

The risotto in Venice is soupy and weird compared to the more classic Milanese style most of us think of, and often has a lot of sea creatures with faces and arms and legs, and dried apricots and pignoli nuts and raisins in it. (But Beth might have loved the cinnamon aspects, given, you know, her history.)

Marcella Hazan spends a lot of time in Florida these days, in a condo just down the hall from my former step-mother-in-law. I think they argue a lot about whose parking space is whose.

She also smokes like a chimney. Thirty years ago I gave my husband a cookng class with her, in Connecticut, and they made risotto. She dropped cigarette ashes into it more than once. But yes, she is all about the stirring.

DG Strong said...

I am of the soupy school myself, so Venetian-style risotto is the way to go. I've heard that Marcella smokes, which is always points off for a chef, especially one that yammers about proper seasoning all the time.

Kat, no. Just make rice if you don't have the right kind. I actually prefer Cannaroli to Arborio, which I didn't get into, assuming I had already been plenty bossy and it can also be harder to find.

And so it is written.

Beth lee said...

Yeah yeah, cinnamon. But I'm gonna be in the book a whole bunch, when there's a book.

Beth Lee said...

So there, is what I mean.

Tana Butler said...

Shallots, not onions, in my house. A much more delicate flavor. As recommended by Patricia Wells (French, my ass, her Italian trattoria cookbook is very respected and, here, very stained) and others.

I love to make risotto, and might just be as good as you are, DG. Now that I'm comfortable with it, I love to stretch the dimensions.

Current favorite: using Stella Cadente blood orange olive oil, wild mushrooms and shiitakes, and the zest of fresh blood/other oranges.

Thanks for the goodness.

DG Strong said...

I would normally agree about shallots - I think they're a secret to good food - but I think risotto cooks for so long that the shallots can't hold up over that amount of time. I think the more "primitive," sharper onion keeps the risotto from tasting too "soft." But I guess that's subjective.

Now! Marcella - and others - swear that risotto is butter-based, not olive oil. Though as a rule, I like Patricia Wells. I've never messed around with olive oil for it; I'll have to think about that. Lord knows I have eight bottles of fancy flavored oil sitting around the pantry.

Dazy said...

I don't like risotto much. But it's my kids' favorite. Many times I have tried this for them.