Gourmet secrets o risotto mio brunch columns hindustan times

Rice is my comfort food and the equivalent of a big, fat hug; something I simply can’t resist. I throw all caution and diets to the wind and give myself an excuse to indulge in something hot like plain boiled rice or dal khichri (have switched from white to nutty mountain brown though), and fried (can anyone resist a bowl of Chinese egg fried rice on a Friday night?), or a smooth and silky risotto.

Risotto is made mainly in northern Italy in the Veneto (the area around Venice and Verona) and in Piedmont (the area around Turin), where they add the local red wine Barolo to it instead of stock. Northern Italy can have harsh, blustery winter days, which are perfect for a hot dish of cheesy, creamy rice.

Much is made of risotto, the creamy Italian rice dish, and few make it really well. The main characteristic of risotto rice as opposed to ours, is that it is able to absorb moisture and swell to more than double its volume after being cooked, while still retaining a bite in the centre. The best and most commonly found rice for risotto is Arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano. All are available in India in gourmet shops and online.

Rice for risotto is never washed as this removes the starch which gives risotto its creamy texture. The principle is to cook the rice slowly by letting it gradually absorb stock, which is added little by little, one ladle full at a time, until the rice is cooked.

It is important to constantly stir to prevent it from sticking. It is also essential that your stock is hot so that the rice doesn’t stop cooking every time you add stock. Take it off the gas just before you think it is ready because it will continue to cook in its own heat. Most people add some wine, a little onion and Parmesan at the end. You can make it vegetarian with asparagus or mushrooms or indulgent with shaved truffles, or non-vegetarian with seafood. The most important ingredients though, are your rice and stock.

The ideal consistency of risotto is soft and runny, but you should be able to pick it up with a fork. it should never be cooked till it gets dry. Left over risotto makes the most delicious fried balls called arancini. All you have to do is add an egg to the cold rice with a little grated Parmesan and some breadcrumbs, make little balls in the palm of your hand and deep fry them.

I re-learned my risotto skills at a recent lunch with chef Roberto Gatto from the celeb hang out and most glamorous hotel in Venice, Cipriani. His risotto is one of the best selling dishes on the menu at Cip’s, their stunning waterfront restaurant overlooking San Marco, over which Roberto presides.

Roberto is very clear that he uses vialone nano only and his stock is obviously home made. The recipe is wickedly simple but specific on quality of ingredients. I thought his insistence on vialone nano rice was a bit over the top, till I tasted it. I’ve had many, many risotti in my day, but his asparagus risotto beats them all. And if you get a chance to eat one at Cip’s overlooking the lagoon at sunset… Well there are very few experiences to match that.