The chef's blog
The Art, and a bit of science, behind the perfect risotto
Italians are famous abroad, for pasta, in its multiple forms and various condiments, and even in Italy, we Italians define ourselves the pasta people, or more colloquially, the spaghetti people.
Surprisingly, Italy produces 50% of the entire European rice production and it's the larger producer in Europe. Of all this rice, 68% is exported all over the world, including China and the rest, mainly the varieties for risotto making, remains for internal consumption.
With a per capita consumption of 5,3 kg per year, Italians rank fourth in Europe, following Austria (5.7 kg), Spain (6,3) and Portugal, first in the lot with a staggering 14,7 kg! Must be said that, contrary to the above mentioned countries, rice consumption in Italy is far from homogeneous, with Piedmont and Lombardia producing up to 92% of the national production and pro capita consumption of 9kg in Lombardia, almost 8 kg in Veneto compare to a much lower in the south of the country where the numbers go under the 3 kg per year.
Oddly, it’s from the southern Italy that rice come from.
The beginning of a consistent rice consumption as a food in Italy, can be dated back to the XIV century in Naples, where Spanish, or more precisely Aragonese, brought it. Neapolitans started eating it as a food, maybe not as a risotto and not for long, superseded by pasta, which was becoming more and more popular those days.
Rice moves to the north, especially due to better climatic conditions, such as a higher presence of water, of which rice needs dearly. Actually, in northern Italy, other varieties of rice were already well know, although for medicinal use or for bakery purposes.
The fact is that rice consumption as a food, became standard in the north. Is no mystery that in the popular imagination, the archetype of risotto is the Risotto alla Milanese.
But rice, in the end, still comes from Asia, we don’t know exactly from where, some says from the roots of Himalaya some 15,000 years ago. We can be sure that consumption of rice as a food, started in China around the VI millennium B.C.
The rice plant (Oryza Sativa) has three subspecies:
Which subspecies are better for risotto?
Different subspecies have different percentages of two precious elements (from the culinary point of view) and first of all the forms in which this components are present in the rice grain:
In the “indica” subspecies, the starch structure is crystalline, so impervious to water and oil absorption, a characteristic of fundamental importance for making risotto.
In the subspecies “japonica”, instead, the amorphous structure of the starch, together with the husking process which introduces microscopic air bubble into the grain, makes this rice just perfect for risotto making.
Inside this rice subspecies, there are many different varieties, among them the famous Carnaroli, Arborio and Vialone Nano.
Next time we will talk about those varieties and many more.
Next chapter, March 22nd, 2017
Executive Chef with over thirty years of field experience, passionate in the culinary world at 360º