Think Italy and carbohydrates – the first thought that comes into mind is pasta. Followed by pizza. The culinary tradition of my own country basically revolves around these two big names, the main sources of carbs in the Mediterranean diet. In this picture rice might not be considered the biggest staple food in the boot-shaped European country, but northern Italy has a long-standing tradition in rice production and culinary use. Think risotto.
When I was about 8 years old, my class was taken on a school trip to a city renowned for its rice production, Vercelli. I still remember it as one of the most epic adventures from my primary school years. They took us on a long walk around rice crops, then into a rice production factory, explaining all the traditional tools employed for centuries in that area to produce rice. For the first time in my life I was made aware that there are hundreds of varieties of rice that serve different purposes when turned into food. To make risotto you need a special type of rice. Just a bunch of kilometers away from Vercelli and its countryside lays the region of Lombardia, the one that takes credit for the invention of risotto.
Risotto is one thing I make whenever I have wine leftovers in a bottle. The horribly picky wine drinker that I am refuses to have any wine that has been sitting around for too long in an opened bottle. A few days from opening a wine bottle its content will be downgraded from “drink” to “cooking ingredient”. Being wine a key ingredient in risotto, every time I have wine leftovers risotto is for sure going to be on the menu soon.Red wine risotto (serves 3-4):
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large red onion (or 2 smaller ones)
- 300 g Carnaroli rice
- 300 ml red wine
- 1 liter chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp crushed dried thyme
- 15 g butter
Mince a red onion and sauté it in a pan with 1 tbsp of olive oil for a few minutes. Then add the rice (make sure to get a type of rice that is suitable for risotto like, for example, Carnaroli). Toast the rice stirring it around with the onion for a few minutes, on medium heat. At the same time, if you don’t have a pot of chicken stock available, bring 1 liter of water to the boil and dissolve two stock cubes in it. You’ll need the stock soon. After toasting the rice, pour all the wine in one go, set the stove on higher heat and stir the rice around until all the wine has been absorbed into the rice and its alcohol has evaporated. Only when the wine has been reduced, you can start adding the broth. I like to go little by little, so what I normally do is add enough stock to cover the rice and let it reduce and get absorbed before I add the next ladleful. Continue until all the stock has been added and absorbed into the rice. While adding the stock, add also 1/2 tsp of dried thyme for extra flavour. When all the stock will have been added and absorbed, the rice will have cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat. As a finishing touch, add 15 g of butter and stir it in.Thre are many variations that can be made, but this is the most basic one. Back when I was living in Italy I liked to sauté some radicchio together with the onions. I didn’t have any this time, so I went for the bare and simple recipe. I just needed to do some justice to that wine I no longer wanted to drink and onions and butter was all I had at hand. Still, a pretty decent outcome for such a simple dish, right?