And don't go thinking that the manufacturers of Uncle Ben's ever had the corner on rice. Plain old white rice hardly begins to describes the variations of rice that are available.
Our topic today is rice. Actually, to be more specific, our topic is Risotto, which is an Italian dish made from Arborio rice. Risotto is all about the rice of Italy. But before we get to the recipe, we will take a look at rice and its place in the world.
Simply put, rice is the grain of an aquatic grass that is widely cultivated as a world food source. Rice, before it is stripped of the bran and germ, is a great source of fiber; it is high in complex carbohydrates, contains nearly no fat, is cholesterol free and low in sodium. Rice is a source of protein containing all eight essential amino acids. When paired with beans you have yourself a complete source of nutrition.
This is a great opportunity to distinguish between rice and wild rice. While rice is an actual grain, wild rice is really a seed of an aquatic grass. They both come from the grass family, but are not the same thing at all. A special note about wild rice: Not all wild rice is the natural and time honored seed that is ceremoniously harvested by the Native Americans of this country. Commercial wild rice is far different and not nearly as nutritious as authentic wild rice. So be mindful of what you purchase. Make sure the wild rice you serve your family is the real thing. Read the label or find an authentic source.
And what about this whole long-grain/short grain thing? Well, here's what you need to know about that: Long-grain rice, as it's name implies, is longer. It also tends not to stick and so remains fluffy when cooked. Short-grain releases more starch and so it is stickier and is used when one is looking for a creamy texture.
|Long and Short Grain Rice|
Now that we know the long and the short of it, where does instant rice fit it? In our humble opinion, it doesn't! Instant rice is white rice that is cooked and then dehydrated. The process takes out literally all nutritional elements of the grain, not to mention flavor and texture. It's rather like eating a plate of soggy issue paper. And on top of it all, it is more expensive than uncooked rice. Do yourself a favor and put the few extra minutes into making regular rice. If you don't like to cook rice, you can find a steamer that will take the guess work out of cooking it. The 2 Prickly Pears each own a rice steamer.
We are not going to talk about all 40,000 types of rice in this article, but if you are interested in knowing more about that, here's a site that might interest you. Rice Varieties. With that much rice grown around the world, it is easy to see it as a main food staple like other grains, such as wheat and oats.
We all are probably aware that rice is often associated with Asia. China and Thailand are major growers and exporters of rice. But because we are thinking about our risotto recipe, we are focusing on the rice of Italy. Did you know that the Mediterranean has a climate perfect for growing rice? We didn't either. It turns out that this region of the world is perfect for growing short-grain rice, like Arborio, and other kinds as well.
There are many versions of rice grown in the Mediterranean. Here are a few:
- Carnaroli Rice - considered to be the "King of Rice," it has a nutty flavor while holding its texture when in stock.
- Vialone Nano Rice - is soft and less grainy than Carnaroli. It absorbs flavors of other ingredients and holds its shape well.
- Arborio Rice - named for a province in Vercelli. It is defined by its ability to absorb flavors and produce a creamy texture. This rice is Italy's most widely produced rice making it cheaper than others.
- Baldo Rice - is derived from Arborio. The grains are long with good absorption effects. It is often used in risottos, pies, and baked rice dishes.
- Roma Rice - has big, round, long grains. It has a high level of rice and is very versatile.
- Balilla Rice - considered the original rice because it is derived from the first Italian rice. This rice if small, round and has great absorption in cooking.
- Sant'Andrea Rice - this rice turns soft and slightly sticky when cooked. This is not a suitable rice for risotto.
Now for a little risotto history; in the 15 century the plains of northern Italy were cleared to create rice fields. The reason was simple; the growing population needed food. Although rice was introduced to Italy by the Arabs many centuries earlier, it was relatively new to northern Italy.
Rice was actually known in the Roman times, but it was used only for medicinal purposes. Northern Italians cooked their rice grains into a type of porridge, what we now call risotto. Due to the then high cost of rice, it was mainly a food for the rich. But that didn't last long. As taxes were excised and rice crops increased, the costs went down. Rice became a food of the people and nothing would stop it from reaching all corners of the globe. Today Italy is Europe's largest producer of rice and most of it is concentrated in Northern Italy called the Po Valley.
Now, about that risotto. There are many stories of the first culinary offering of risotto to the Italian pallet. The one we came upon most frequently entails a young chef who loved saffron and used it in everything. He was kidded by his mentor that one day he would find a way to include saffron in his rice. For the mentor's daughter's wedding the young chef decided to play a trick on his mentor and created a rice dish that included saffron. Thinking this a fine joke, he waited for a response from the guest. To his surprise, the guest happily devoured the rice and so risotto was born!
And how glad we are that the joke was played. Because all that brings us to our recipe for risotto. To get started, let's set the ground rules. The 2 Prickly Pears have watched many a cooking shows. Invariably risotto comes up either as a challenge or a test of culinary prowess. And almost invariable, the chef makes a mess of the whole thing.
- You cannot rush risotto. It takes as long as it takes. The process of cooking the rice in the broth on a medium heat is what brings out the trademark creamy texture.
- Use the proper rice. Risotto requires a short grain rice.
- Make sure your stock is warm. A cool stock will bring the temperature down in your pan and affect the texture of the rice.
- Stirring the rice (agitating it) is necessary, but too much stirring will result in a mushy risotto. Stir frequently, but not constantly.
Okay! Let's get started on our Risotto. We are making a basic dish with parmesan and peas.
6 cups hot chicken broth
1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 Tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
3 Tablespoons butter
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh cooked or frozen peas
salt and pepper
What you need to do:
Bring broth to a boil and keep hot.
Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter in skillet over medium-low heat and saute onions and garlic until tender. Do not brown them. Increase heat slightly and add the rice and stir for 1 minute. Slowly add in 1 1/2 cup hot broth, boil gently in pan, stirring frequently until the broth is absorbed. Add 1/2 cup more broth and stir until absorbed. Continue this until all the broth is used. Stir frequently, but do not stir constantly. This will take between 25-30 minutes.
Stir in 3 Tablespoons of butter, the cheese and the peas. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Now, you've done it! You've made risotto. Remember the rules. No risotto can be rushed!
We are so happy to eat our yummy risotto. We hope you agree.
Now, go out and make something good.