Chef Ben Vaughn Presents a Brief History of Risotto
No one is really sure how rice arrived in Italy. Chef Ben Vaughn has done some research and says that rice was likely introduced to the Italian nation in the 14th century, probably from Spain. There are of course other theories, notes Chef Ben Vaughn, including China’s Silk Road trade. One thing that most everyone can agree on, Chef Ben Vaughn adds, is that shortly after rice made it to Italy it became a popular staple of Italian food.
Agriculturally, reports Chef Ben Vaughn, Italy has excellent land for cultivating rice. The lay of the land, the availability of water, and the Mediterranean humidity make rice grow very well there. Chef Ben Vaughn says that the most prevalent example of rice in Italian food is risotto. Chef Ben Vaughn identifies 4 major components to authentic risotto.
The first is soffritto. Soffritto, explains Chef Ben Vaughn, is the flavor base of risotto. Soffritto varies by region and cook, but is usually a mix of vegetables, onion, oil, and butter. Chef Ben Vaughn says the soffritto must be sautéed in the same skillet that the rice will later be cooked.
Chef Ben Vaughn instructs that after soffritto comes the broth. There are many broth options, says Chef Ben Vaughn, including meat broth, vegetable broth and fish broth. Each broth adds its own unique character to the dish. Some people use canned broth to save time, but Chef Ben Vaughn always prefers to make his own broth.
Component three of risotto is the choice of flavoring ingredient. This is Chef Ben Vaughn’s favorite part of making risotto. There is a lot of freedom here, but Chef Ben Vaughn prefers sticking to tradition. He says to choose vegetables, meat, or truffles to give your risotto a rich, hearty flavor. And if you can, says Chef Ben Vaughn, use saffron. Saffron is a very unique and traditional flavoring for risotto.
The last and most famous component, continues Chef Ben Vaughn, is the Italian rice. Italian rice, says Chef Ben Vaughn, is unique from other kinds of rice in that it is made up of large grains that contain a lot of starch. Chef Ben Vaughn further explains that Italian rice is ideal for risotto because it can absorb lots of flavorful liquid while cooking but still stay firm.
Now that you’ve had a risotto lesson, Chef Ben Vaughn encourages you to go out there and experiment with your own risotto recipes. You are sure to be delighted by the results. And if success doesn’t come on the first try, you’ve got another excuse to practice in the kitchen. Happy cooking!