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Cucina

Risotto

A step-by-step guide to crafting this classic Italian dish

How to make risotto

Nikko Jacino, Toronto chef and founder of The Chef Cartel, demonstrates the techniques to making this authentic dish

Photography by Jeremy Kohm
Click right through the arrows to follow the risotto preparation
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Start with a healthy drizzle of pure Italian olive oil, or use the oil from a jar of Italian peperoncino or chili flakes. (This adds a touch of heat and gives the risotto an orange hue.) Add a large chopped onion and stir, until just softened, 1 to 2 minutes.
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Add small clove of garlic, minced. Cook and stir for 5 minutes. When the onion and garlic turn soft and translucent, add 1½ to 2 cups Italian-grown Arborio rice. Toasting the rice adds another layer of flavour and readies the grains to accept the white wine, stock and other flavourings.
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After toasting the rice for 45 seconds, deglaze the pan with about ½ cup dry Italian white wine. Scrape up and stir in the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir and keep cooking, until the alcohol evaporates. When the rice starts to dry in the pan (it will sizzle faster, with a higher-pitched sound), add hot chicken or veal stock, a couple of ladles at a time, up to 5 or 6 cups.
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After about 15 minutes, add rehydrated porcini mushrooms and stir them in. (You can begin rehydrating the mushrooms 20 minutes before starting the risotto. Simply pour hot water over the dried porcini and let them soak until soft.)
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Add more stock and stir, waiting until the previous ladleful has been absorbed by the rice. The mixture will turn creamy from the starch in the rice. Continue adding stock, until rice is al dente, being careful to only add small amounts at a time. (If you’re not sure when it needs more liquid, drag the spoon along the bottom. If it leaves a trail of exposed pan before filling in, add more.) This should take 22 – 24 minutes of continuous, gentle stirring.
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Stir in a pinch of sea salt and a generous pat of room-temperature butter. (Butter makes for a velvety, creamy sauce, and the fat carries flavour as well.) After incorporating the butter, add 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir and taste for seasoning.
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Top with more peperoncini in oil, minced fresh Italian parsley and a couple tablespoons (or to taste) of Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings. Serve immediately.

'It's a myth that tomatoes have to be cooked slowly'

Chef Giuseppe Posteraro, of Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill in Vancouver, on using Italian pantry essentials to take the ordinary to the extraordinary

What key Italian ingredients should every home cook have on hand?

Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano, extra-virgin olive oil, artisanal pasta, coarse sea salt and Tomato San Marzano produce nella piana di Nocera Inferiore.

Why is it so important to use Italian extra-virgin olive oil?

Oil that comes from Italy is low in acidity and is obtained only through mechanical means, almost always harvested on the plant. Use it at the last minute for the perfect finish. When you’re making sauce, cook it at low heat with whole garlic (no onions or chopped garlic) to let it infuse in the oil, then remove it and add a little basil.

Chef Giuseppe Posteraro photographed in Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill, one of Vancouver's top Italian restaurants.

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when preparing Italian dishes?

Cooking pasta for too long – you need to take two minutes away for what the packaging time indicates. And don’t cook the tomatoes for a long time, either. It’s a myth that tomatoes have to be cooked slowly in order to extract their full flavour.

What are the common mistakes home cooks should know to avoid?

Grate Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano just before serving – that way you can taste the true greatness of the cheese, with no oxidation and loss of flavour. And when you’re making sauce, use coarse Italian sea salt from Sicily – it releases its crystals slowly and saturates the sauce with flavour.

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