During the Spring 2012 I taught one of many interdisciplinary undergraduate seminars in the Experimental Study Group at MIT. Each class is based on the preparation of a simple delicious dish and on the bite-sized acquisition of parts of the Italian language and culture.
Videography by Graham Gordon Ramsay.

Click here to watch the videos in full resolution.
Buon divertimento!

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Il risotto

Risotto is a typical dish from Northern Italy, particularly from the regions Piemonte and Lombardia, but you can eat it everywhere nel Bel Paese. We use specific varieties of rice, such as riso arborio, that remain creamy and have body at the same time. Rice in Italy is grown mostly in the so called Padan Plain (Pianura Padana) or Po Valley (valle del Po) - Po being longest river in Italy. During class, we cooked three kinds of risotto:

1- con funghi e zafferano (if we had cooked it with only zafferano, it would have been risotto alla milanese -- Milano style)
2- con asparagi
3- al radicchio e salsiccia

but you can make risotto with essentially anything: peas, pumpkin, zucchine, artichock, shrimps, seafood, gorgonzola cheese, lemon, herbs,..whatever you have in the fridge. Experiment!


It serves 4 ... depending on who is invited for dinner. On average you should consider 80 g per person (two fistful)... but I prefer 100 g.

- Olive oil (olio d'oliva) -- max a couple of spoons
- Sale
- 1 small cipolla (you can also use scallion, i.e. scalogno) and/or 1 clove of aglio
- 1/2 to 1 bouillon cube (vegetable or not, it is up to you)
- 400 g of arborio rice
- 1 spoon of butter (burro)
- Parmigiano cheese (formaggio Parmigiano)
- in a few years you can add 1 glass of wine
- optional: 1 bunch of italian parsley (prezzemolo)

and, based on which option you choose:

- about 150 g of fresh mushrooms (funghi) or 50 g of dried mushrooms. If you use dried mushrooms, soak them in warm water for at least 20 minutes. In class we used shitake mushrooms: if you find porcini, they are ideal.
- saffron powder (zafferano)
- asparagi
- a few Italian sausages (salsiccia)
- 1 head of radicchio (also called Italian chicory)


- Make a soffritto (sweat on medium-low heat) with chopped onion (options 1,2) or garlic (option 3)
- In the meantime boil at least 1.5 L of water (yes, we measure the water in liters, litri)
- When the vegetables have softened add the bouillon cube (it will melt)
*option 1: add the chopped mushrooms. After a few minutes add the rice and turn up the heat
*option 2: add the asparagi (washed and chopped -- discard the though ends). After a few minutes add the rice and turn up the heat
* option 3: add the radicchio (washed and finely chopped). When it gets soft, add the sausage (without skin, in small pieces) and turn up the heat. When the sausage is cooked add the rice.
- Toast the rice till when it is lightly translucent
- (At this point you can add a glass of wine and wait till the alcohol evaporates)
- Turn down the heat to a simmer: keep adding boiling water and DO NOT stir continuously. Season to taste with salt (you can add also pepper and other spices)
* option 1: fill a glass with boiling water and mix the saffron powder. Add it to the rice.
- Continue to add water and stir from time to time till when the rice is tender (but not too tender, taste it!). It should take about 15-20 minutes.
- it is time for the mantecatura: take off the heat, stir butter+some grated parmisan
- you can sprinkle with minced Italian parsley

Like with pasta, we want the risotto al dente (lit. to the tooth-> such that the teeth find still a little resistance). We sometimes say that the risotto is all'onda (lit. to the wave) to indicate how risotto "flows" when served onto a plate.

Buon appetito! Enjoy your meal!

PS in the traditional recipe you prepare the broth and add it, instead of putting the bouillon cube in the sweat and adding boiling water..the disadvantage is that then you need to wash an extra pot.

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