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Gastronomy


Rice and risotto
(Riso e risoti - risi e risotti)

There are basically two ways in which rice is prepared in Venice, in broth and risotto. In broth the consistency is that of an extremely thick soup. When a spoonful is removed, the cavity left by the spoon will fill up slowly. A risotto is drier and will form a mound on the plate or in the dish. This is how it is in theory, in any case. We often see risotti that fill all the requirements for rice in broth.

Another explanation that is sometimes given for the difference between the two is that for rice in broth the rice is added to the broth while for risotto the broth is added to the rice. We have tried it both ways and found them indistinguishable if the same amount of broth is used. We conclude that it is simply a matter of adding a little more broth or a little less rice that makes the difference.

But, to complete the consistency discussion and further cloud the distinction between the two, within each category some dishes are traditionally drier or more brothy than others. A brothy risotto is almost like a dry rice in broth.

Another interesting thing is that for some reason there are certain dishes that are always served as a risotto and some always as rice in broth. Then there are some that are popular either way, the best example being risoto de bisi and risi e bisi, peas and rice. There is no apparent logic as to why it should be so.

The procedures for making the various risi and risotti vary somewhat from one to another, but the idea is pretty much the same throughout. Rice is added to a saucepan containing the other almost cooked ingredients. Then water or broth is added a little at a time, enough to prevent the rice from sticking. The rice is cooked to a point where it has just become tender but is still rather firm to the bite and not mushy. During the cooking the rice must be stirred frequently, especially toward the end.

The first and most obvious pitfall is the rice itself, both with regard to the type and the quality. There are several types of rice in Italy, the three best suited for our purposes being carnaroli, vialone, and arborio. Other types are softer and release more starch when cooked and are not well adapted. Carnaroli, vialone and arborio retain the starch and when cooked the grains remain reasonably discrete. Of the three we believe carnaroli is the best, but there are different qualities of each type. The best arborio would more than likely make a better risotto than a second quality vialone. Try to find the first quality Italian rice. Otherwise, use domestic short-grain rice. We have made acceptable risotti with American rice packaged by a Texas firm. It may be our imagination, but it seems to work better than some other domestic brands.

The next thing to consider is the broth. For a number of risotti the broth is made as a by-product of the preparation of the name ingredient, but for many others, particularly those involving vegetables, broth from other sources must be substituted and chosen with care. If you are making a risotto with an ingredient that has a delicate flavor you must be careful not to cover it up. On the other hand if you were to use only water the result might be too insipid. You have to be an equilibrist. Try for a balance of veal or light chicken broth or a mixture of the two for delicate risotti and beef or beef and strong chicken broth for others with more definite flavor. For seafood, fish stock may be used, but only if it will not overpower the main ingredient.

By far the best broths are, of course, those made from scratch (see earn e polo lessi, page 146). You may substitute veal for beef, use all chicken, or vary it in any way you may wish to come up with either a heavier or lighter broth. Goose broth (page 41), is also good. Meat and fowl left over from making broth may be used to make polpete de came (page 187) or suchete ripiene (page 191). For fish broth see brodeto de pesce (page 31), but be sure to leave out the vinegar.

Even with the best quality rice and homemade broth one must pay attention to the other ingredients, be they meat, fish, fowl, or vegetable. If you put in garbage, you will wind up with garbage and rice.

The menus are divided into two sections, risi and risoti.


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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran, Pino Golja and Etty Simich

Created: Wednesday, January 20, 1999. Last Updated: Monday, November 27, 2006
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