One of Italy’s favorite primo dishes is risotto; and with good cause, as Italy has become Europe’s leading rice producer. As early back as 4000 BC rice was grown in India, and though it’s not known for sure how rice made its way to Italy, we know that in September of 1475, the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, promised twelve sacks of rice seeds to the Duke of Ferrara. It is also known that during this time rice was cultivated along the Po River and was flourishing. However, due to the health risks associated with the stagnant water the rice grew in and for fear of the spread of diseases like malaria, rice was not easily accepted into Italian cuisine. Over time, things have certainly changed; today rice is one of the basic elements of Italian gastronomy. Whereas pasta invaded Italy from the South to the North, rice dishes started from the North, and for the most part, have stayed there; specifically they have remained north of the Po River, where the river provides the perfect geography for rice cultivation. The hot spots for rice production are the Lombardy, Piedmont, and Veneto regions of Italy.
Risotto has been described in many a mouth-watering way and when prepared properly emerges in a state of perfect creaminess, yet not mushy, with a firm core to each delicate, fluffy piece of rice. Making risotto takes plenty of patience as you have to add broth or another liquid at intervals throughout the entire cooking process.
Italian rice can be grouped into four simple categories based on size and cooking time: commune/originario, semifino, fino, and superfino. Superfino, due to its hardy nature, is best suited for risotto. Take a look at the descriptions of each below.
Commune/originario– This is the first strain found in Italy. Balilla, a version of commune, is used for broths, puddings, fritters, and desserts as it is softer and has a more melting texture to it.
Semifino– One type of this is vialone nano which is known for its speedy cooking time. When cooked, semifino grains of rice are soft on the outside with a firm interior. This type is used best in molded dishes or the popular antipasto arancini.
Fino– This third type of rice is good for boiling and risotto. It has a shorter cooking time. Popular varieties are S. Andrea, Roma, Europa.
Superfino– This rice is shorter in length and best by far for making risotto. The well-known Arborio and Carnaroli are perfect with their sticky and firm nature, and their longer cooking times allow for a creamier risotto.