Giancarla Bodoni of Escopazzo: How to Master Risotto
|All photos by Emily Codik|
|Risotto, prepared with tips by Giancarla Bodoni|
That's because a flawless risotto is achieved solely through the steady stirring of the rice. It typically takes about 20 minutes to complete. Faster renditions, unfortunately, are probably faking the starch effect with fatty dashes of cream.
But a perfectly achieved risotto is the epitome of velvety indulgence (with no cream in sight). So we sought the advice of Giancarla Bodoni, chef and owner of Escopazzo, the South Beach staple for Northern Italian fare since 1993, and asked for her tips on mastering the rice dish. With her help, we created a basic recipe that will deliver a perfect risotto every time. And after a few practice rounds, you might discover it is quite simple -- the best risotti are made with caring hands and quality ingredients.
To begin, select a riso superfino -- short-grain, barrel-shapped rice with a white center that remains firm when cooked, with a starchy outer surface. Bodoni recommends carnaroli, maratelli, or vialone nano, although she primarily uses carnaroli at the restaurant. Arborio is more readily available, but it will not render the sufficient starch required for a perfect risotto. I couldn't find carnaroli at Whole Foods, Publix, or Milam's, so it might be best to just go ahead and order a few pounds online.
Also, opt for a stainless-steel or ceramic skillet with a heavy bottom. The size of your pan will always determine the amount of risotto it will yield, because the layer of rice should never exceed an inch of thickness. Thin layers ensure proper development of starch and even cooking. For this reason, risotto is probably not the ideal dish to serve for parties larger than four to six people. Larger portions would require an extremely large skillet.
Bodoni stresses the importance of using a wooden spoon as well. "Metal spoons can harm the rice grain and interfere with the release of the starch into the dish," she explains.
Also, always try to use homemade stock for the risotto. Bodoni uses mostly a vegetable stock at the restaurant -- one flavored heavily with celery. But seafood risotto could benefit from a stock flavored with open shellfish, and a beef risotto could benefit from chicken or beef stock. If you don't have the time to make your own stock, buy high-quality, low-sodium organic vegetable stock. Scope out the ingredients to make sure there is nothing artificial sneaked in there.
All of the ingredients added to the risotto should be warm or room temperature so the grains aren't shocked (this would, again, affect the release of starch). The exception is cold butter, which is added at the very end of the process (mantecare).
Last, the following recipe is for a basic risotto alla parmigiana, but it could easily be adjusted to suit your tastes or cravings. Use it as a base to strengthen your familiarity with the whole process, and then get playful: Add seasonal vegetables, and vary the cheeses. Incorporate meats and seafood. Herbs too.