If you have ever gone to dine with friends or that special loved one to a fancy Italian restaurant, you will most likely have seen that holy grail of dishes in the menu. The elusive Risotto, always listed as a special and made by the chef only to order, this priced rise is shrouded in a certain mystique that not only entices us to always ask for it but sometimes even justifies the steep price.
Most people are thus lead to believe that Risotto must be a legendary dish, a truly complicated beast to master that is forever out of the reach of mere mortals (certainly out of the reach of any Sunday barbecue male.) Little they know that, much like the perfect chocolate cake, the Risotto is a dish accessible to everyone that just needs a little bit of love (and a hefty doses of attention) to be successfully cooked. Once you learn the basics you'll find out how easy the whole process is, and with the amount of variety you can create afterward you'll say goodbye to store purchased gift baskets and hello to cooking the mysterious Risotto for your friends.
Risotto means little rice, a name derived from the Arborio rice (a special premium quality rice imported from Italy.) Arborio rice is a very peculiar type of grain and must be watched like a hawk, the cooking process requires constant attention: it's not hard to do, but very easy to spoil if you're not looking. Arborio rice are short and fat and provide a combination of creamy feel (for its soft starchy shell) and a rigid texture (for its crunchy center.) The rice is first tossed until coated on onion that has been previously sauteed in oil and then cooked uncovered.
If you thought that cheese was going to be the key element in this dish, well think again. The most important element for making sure that your Risotto comes out a winner is the stock. Arborio rice acts like a super powered sponge and absorbs an amazing amount of water. A good ratio is to use 7 cups of stock (you can use vegetable, fish or chicken stock depending on the type of Risotto you want to prepare) for every 2 cups of rice, but you should play around until you find the best ratio for your tastes. The liquid is added, a little at a time, to release the rice's starch and preserve the firm interior.
The final touch is the coveted saffron, the world's most expensive spice. This rare delicacy is terribly hard to produce but even small quantities add a special flavor impossible to reproduce with artificial replicas. After 20 to 40 minutes of cooking add your saffron for the last minutes to embed the rice with a taste that will stay in the mind of your guests for a long time.
Savour all the amazing flavors of the Italian and Mediterranean cuisines!!!