I was recently invited by a renowned London restaurant to consult on an ongoing 'discussion' between kitchen and management regarding the authenticity of their risotto dish.
Please find below my full report.
Following the tasting last Friday I concur that indeed the rice itself whilst not reflecting the established expectation of ‘risotto’ rice is potentially subject to interpretation as a ‘regional’ variation. But whilst the word ‘risotto’ does literally translate to merely ‘rice’ there is a higher standard to which our expectations are of ‘risotto’ the dish. In the very few regions of Italy through which I have travelled, anecdotally only I must stress, I have not detected huge variations in grain and I feel risotto refers to the dish which is primarily represented by Carnaroli, Arborio and my personal preference, Vialone Nano.
My instinct in testing your current risotto dish is that the rice used is possibly Orzo or close to, it has a relatively slimy texture structure and as you suggest may not be best suited to an even cooking resulting in variations of al dente. It does not quite meet my expectations of a traditional risotto.
During one trip to the Veneto region, I was invited to La Fiera del Riso at Isola della Scala where I joined the traditional celebration of the harvest Garzega, tasting many great dishes made from the Vialone Nano grain traditional to the region, a highlight being the famous risotto all’isolana and a traditional local delicacy which includes veal, rosemary and cinnamon. (In Venice there is a tradition of sauté eel risotto but I don’t think this will travel well).
During this visit I had the great privilege of attending a personal cooking lesson by the renowned chef Gabriele Ferron, which was very enlightening although he compares the level of attention required to the risotto as equal too that one needs to give a woman; can we forgive a little old school Italian misogyny in the pursuit of perfection?
Further, I was invited to a late harvest with Giuseppe Melotti together with his children Luca, Gianmaria and Francesca. The image attached from my archive is of Giuseppe scything the crop by hand ahead of the modern machinery, which I was invited to do but unfortunately there is no photographic evidence and you will have to take my word. (Also, attached landscape I love of an original natural reservoir that has fed the fields with fresh water for centuries).
Cooking of the risotto: Rossini’s opera Tancredi has a ‘rice aria’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42zVcZEbsjI I suggest as an experiment playing this on constant repeat in the kitchen during the stirring of the risotto which might ensure a perfect consistency.
Isola della Scala is the beginning and end of the La Strada del Riso Vialone Nano Veronese, or “Rice Road”, which takes in 22 villages including Buttapietra, Palu and Nogara so i suggest Paul and I embark on a research roadtrip to really gain a full and vital understanding of this vital dish.
As an aside, during another visit to Predappio during an investigation of fascist architecture, admittedly a little further south, I stayed in a very special farm house with a restaurant that just served one dish; a simply perfect champagne risotto with truffle. It remains one of my best food memories.
Very best and kindest regards,