Top 8 Risotto Myths

By / Food / September 3rd, 2009 / 1

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When I was a child, no one I knew had ever heard of risotto. No great mystery why: we were the only Italian family in an Anglo-Canadian neighbourhood. If the truth were told, my own Italian-born and bred parents had never actually had risotto either. Their version of the dish was a concoction resembling pasta called riso bollito: boil water, add Arborio rice, cook until done, drain, stir in tomato sauce. As tasty as my family’s version was, there’s little about it that compares to the authentic rich and creamy delicacy. But then, they came from Abruzzo in the central part of Italy, a region known more for its pasta and crêpes than for its rice dishes.

In the 1400s, at about the time that Giovanni Caboto weighed anchor off the rocky Newfoundland coast, the first rice fields were being cultivated on the plains surrounding Venice. According to the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade, the ensuing 600 years has seen Italy become the leading rice producer in Europe, growing and exporting many types of rice, the best known of which are Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano. The last one is a mouthful, but positively worth the discomfort.

You might well ask what an article on risotto is doing in Tidings’ Canadian issue. The answer is quite simple. Really. Risotto is a perfect metaphor for all that is Canadian. Like all of us have at some time or another, it, too, comes from elsewhere. All immigrants bring with them some valuable skill that’s thrown into the mix we call Canada. Along with Ferrari, Gucci and dining al fresco, Italians brought risotto. It’s now become a standard on restaurant menus, fetching prices upwards of $20 a plate.

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{loadposition contentad} Canadian identity is fluid and ever changing. How dissimilar we can be at times can seem daunting. But, from the east coast to the west and all points in between, we share at least one commonality. Canadians invariably end up talking about the weather. Canada is a country where the climate at any given time of the year can range from a variety of extremes. From our two desert regions — the South Okanagan in British Columbia and the Canadian Arctic — to rugged Newfoundland and Labrador, the expansive landscape provides us with an incredible assortment of fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat and seafood. Risotto, too, is infinitely adaptable. It takes on the attributes of the land and the people who cook it. Just add to it any type of local ingredient you happen to have on hand and voilà, a new Canadian classic every time. Where else would you find risotto garnished with smoked wild Pacific salmon, accompanied by bison sausage or peppered with Oka cheese?

Tucking into hearty fare is a Canadian tradition, if not a necessity given the cold winters that grip the country for half of the year. Risotto fits the bill in every season. That’s right. Comfort food is no longer what it used to be. Create stick-to-your-ribs risotto with squash, white kidney beans or osso buco. In the summer, lighten it up by adding fresh local asparagus, basil or blueberries for a satisfying meal.

Most people eagerly order the ubiquitous rice dish when they see it on a restaurant menu, but balk at the possibility of cooking it themselves in their own kitchens. Let’s do some myth busting to prove how simple risotto is to prepare, and how well it can fit into our busy Canadian lifestyle.



Myth #1 Only Carnaroli rice will do

John Cosentino, chef and distributor at F. Alonzi Wines and Spirits, says that the main difference between Carnaroli, Arborio and Vialone Nano is their size. “Arborio is the shortest of the three types but also the widest, followed by Vialone Nano, and then Carnaroli. During cooking time, the small Arborio releases so much starch due to the friction caused by rubbing against fellow kernels, that the finished product is too starchy, and not as enjoyable as the others. The amount of starch released by Vialone Nano is more than Carnaroli, so it’s preferred for every risotto.”



Myth #2 Use only butter or olive oil

Although butter and olive oil add lovely flavour nuances to risotto, they aren’t the only possibilities. Joseph’s Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake has developed a natural means of producing grape seed oil. The website states that the “oil is made from pomace, the waste left in the grape press during the winemaking process after the pressing cycle.” Grape seed oil is very light in flavour and almost transparent in colour. It makes a great homegrown option to butter or olive oil. 



Myth # 3 Use only white wine

It’s true that most risotto recipes call for dry white wine. If that’s what you prefer to use, then there are a great many Canadian wines that fit the bill. Otherwise, try adding locally produced red wine, rosé, beer or whisky instead. Make sure that you choose one that you like to drink, since that flavour will add its own nuance to the dish.



Myth #4 It’s okay to use water if you don’t have stock

Cosentino suggests that this is one rule that shouldn’t be broken. Proper risotto must be made with stock. Many people find the process of preparing it intimidating, making it one of the misunderstood aspects of risotto. Check out for tips and recipes on how to make your own stock.



Myth #5 Risotto must be served al dente

Although it’s true that most Italians prefer risotto to be al dente, this is by no means a hard and fast rule. Cosentino believes that the final texture should appeal to whoever is eating it. If that means cooking risotto beyond the al dente stage, then that’s fine. There’s no right or wrong.



Myth #6 Making risotto means adding stock slowly and stirring constantly

The prevailing belief suggests that cooking risotto takes a long time during which one must not dare leave the stove. Cosentino uses a no-fail 2:1 ratio, “the amount of cooking liquid (stock) to the amount of starch (rice) needed to perfectly cook your risotto dish every time.” Very little stirring is needed, and you can leave the room while it’s cooking. Now there’s no reason why risotto can’t become an everyday Canadian staple.



Myth #7 Add milk or cream

I have come across some recipes (and even some restaurants) that encourage one to add a tablespoon or two of milk or cream at the end of the cooking process. Changing a recipe to make it your own or to improve on it is great. But, short cuts such as this one won’t result in anything close to the real thing.



Myth #8 Risotto must be eaten as soon as it’s cooked

Although risotto is certainly at its creamiest at the end of the cooking process, it by no means loses its flavour (or much of its texture) if forced to sit and wait. Actually, if you find that you have leftover risotto, there are a lot of tasty ways to deal with it. Arancini (little oranges) can be made by placing a spoonful of risotto into the palm of your hand and shaping it into a ball. Roll the rice ball in a beaten egg. Then roll it in seasoned breadcrumbs. Fry them until they’re brown and crispy. Arancini are a great make-ahead appetizer or side dish. You can fry them up the day before you need them, and warm them in the oven. Leftover risotto can also be used to stuff tomatoes or peppers, and then grilled on the barbecue. Now that’s Canadian.



This is Chef Gabriele Ferron’s recipe for risotto to which you can add whatever additional ingredient you’d like. He tends to use Ferron Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice because the end result is lusciously creamy. Typically found in upscale markets or Italian grocery stores, Ferron rice can also be purchased through the distributor, F. Alonzi Wines and Spirits (

Chef Gabriele Ferron is one of the most respected rice farmers in the Veneto area. In continual operation since 1656, his Riseria Ferron still uses an original process whereby the natural waterways abundant in Northern Italy are channelled to flood the rice fields. In an effort to remain organic, Chef Ferron and his team release carp into the water. They subsequently dine on the insects that might otherwise infest the plants. Once the rice has been harvested in September, the carp are also caught and sold to fish markets. Risotto à la carp, anyone?

recipe for basic risotto

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cups Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

4 cups hot chicken stock

Grated cheese

Optional additions: puréed beets, pesto, shrimp, etc.

In a heavy pan, toast the rice in the olive oil for a few minutes. Pour the hot stock over the rice and stir. Cover the pan, and reduce heat to a simmer. After about 10 minutes stir in any additions you’ve decided to use. Replace cover, and simmer for another 4 minutes. Rice should be completely cooked at this point. Give the rice a final stir, and serve with grated cheese.

Variation: Make a red and white risotto for Canada Day. Just cook up one batch of risotto. Leave half of it in the original pan. Put the other half into another pan, and stir in 1 tbsp of tomato paste. Arrange the two risotto colours side by side in the same serving dish. Sprinkle with grated cheese.

Feel free to garnish the risotto with woodland mushrooms sautéed with shallots and white wine, and serve it with Pinot Noir. Or lay roasted lamb chops overtop of it, and enjoy it with Syrah. Sometimes I make the basic recipe with a simple addition of lemon zest and basil and pour myself a glass of Riesling. Now that you know how to turn risotto into a Canadian classic, give it a try, then log on to and let me know how you made it your own.


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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