Over the years, the history and mythology of risotto have woven a delicious tale, though one thread is undeniably consistent: The risotto “invented” in northern Italy and still the jewel in the culinary crown there today, is northern Italy’s culinary masterpiece. Tales of Risotto: Culinary Adventures from Villa d’Este (Glitterati Incorporated) presents the recipes of Villa d’Este executive chef Luciano Parolari, known locally as “The King of Risotto”.
Tales of Risotto includes more than fifty recipes, along with the basic information needed to make a perfect risotto. Some are classics and some are variations that were invented or perfected over the years at Villa d’Este. The book includes a deluxe array of recipes, pairing risotto with cheeses, fruits, vegetables, fish, shellfish, poultry, and meats, as well as a selection of seasonal risottos as divine as Risotto with Pumpkin Blossoms and White Truffles for Autumn and Risotto with Green Tomatoes, Crispy Bacon, and Fava Beans for Summer.
As author Jean Salvatore Govoni writes in the book’s introduction, “Until the early 1970s, little was understood internationally about the importance of rice to Italian cooking. The advent of international air travel from the Americas and Australia assisted in this discovery. Visitors to the region came to understand that Italian home cooking—especially in the north—is quite different from what was considered Italian food in their home countries.
“Extra virgin olive oil, Paramigiano-Reggiano, saffron, porcini mushrooms, white truffles (only available in the province of Alba in Piedmont). Florentine T-bone steak, the most tender veal, prosciutto crudo, ed radicchio salad from Treviso, asparagus, and artichokes are only a few of the items that area considered basic ingredients for refined Italian palates. The trust is that Italians can be quite extravagant in preparing their meals, as it is just one of the art forms we take so seriously. Italian cooking is based on quality ingredients, which is why it is considered to be one of the most expensive cuisines in the gastronomic world. The most sought-after dish is risotto—and it has become very trendy because it is both delicious and health.”
As Luciano Parolari writes in the book’s introduction, “Risotto is a Milanese institution that was introduced to what is now Italy by the Saracens between the eighth and eleventh centuries. Risotto is more than simply a technique for cooking rice, and to be authentic, it must e made from a particular variety of rice, called Carnaroli, which is indigenous to northern Italy. Carnaroli is longer grained than American rice, but what makes this ice special is its ability to absorb to an unusual degree the flavors from the ingredients it is cooked with—it merges with the cooking liquid to create a consistency whereby each individual grain of rice remains firm and al dente. The finished dish should be tender and creamy, not soft and mushy. Arborio rice can certainly be substituted for Carnaroli, but it must be watched a little more carefully.
“It is important to note that traditionally risotto has been a first course in the Italian meal—following the appetizer and preceding the main course. However, risotto can be served as a main course. A basic risotto with just an addition of Parmesan, champagne, or saffron is generally served as a first course, but when served in combination with any type of meat, chicken, or shellfish, it can be served as a main course. Many diners, appreciating the luxury of risotto, prefer to eat a single larger course.
“Italians are known to have a flair for cooking because of their creativity in method and the variety of ingredients they use; for example, there are hundreds of ways to make even the most basic Bolognese—also called ragù, or meat sauce. But for risotto there is one fundamental recipe that must be followed religiously—even when making variations.
“The four basic steps in making a risotto are as follows: sautéing the onion with oil and/or butter until softened; adding the rice to the pan and stirring the coat until the grains are translucent; adding the stock about ½ cup at a time until completely absorbed by the rice; and, finally, stirring in the final elements—which always include butter, and usually cheese, plus any extra ingredients.
“Quality ingredients are the key to a perfect risotto, and this important feature cannot be stressed strongly enough. For best results the broth should be homemade and barely salted. Tasting throughout the process is important—it may be that extra tablespoons of butter and Parmesan should be added at the last moment to enrich the risotto.
“What is the favorite risotto of the guests at Villa d’Este? By far Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms steals the hearts and palates of all. I have lived in the risotto region of Italy my entire life and continue to be delighted in the varieties I encounter and the imagination that can be brought to bear in cooking them. I hope this book will inspire you—through not only its recipes, but through all the wonderful stories of those who have loved risottos through the years at Villa d’Este—to do the same.”