Before I get into why I refer to today’s post as An Inspired Vegetable Risotto, let me start with a brief introduction about Risotto. A Risotto is an Italian dish of rice that is sautéed and slow cooked with broth and other additions. It is creamy and like thick porridge in consistency when done. Risotto requires a starchy white rice which becomes somewhat sticky when cooked. Arborio is most popularly associated with Risotto across the world. However, other rice varieties like Carnaroli, Baldo, Maratelli, etc are commonly used in Italy.
I’m sure every rice growing region across the world must have its own version of the Risotto. In North India we have Khichdi which, using a most basic recipe, is rice cooked with lentils. In the South, we have savoury and sweet versions of Pongal which is a similar rice and lentil dish. There are plenty of variations of this across the country.
A few days back I was having a discussion about rice with some Indian food enthusiasts/ bloggers. It so happens rice is very much a part of our lives. Among other things, we also talked about how different rice varieties could be used to cook dishes that they were not traditionally used in. That got me thinking.
I love exploring new foods and ingredients but I also am a strong believer in using locally grown ingredients as much as possible. This is more friendly and sustainable way of eating for many reasons. Arborio rice used for Risotto is now available in India. Not surprisingly, it is expensive.
We eat a largely rice based diet rice is a staple in my pantry. One of the varieties of rice I use regularly at home is Idli Rice. It is a short-to-medium grain rice that makes very soft and fluffy idlis (steam cooked savoury rice cakes). Now Idli Rice is very similar to Arborio in appearance. It is a fat rice with a white starchy centre. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this and why I call this An Inspired Vegetable Risotto.
The way to cook a Risotto is to keep adding small amounts of broth while the rice cooks. This helps release the starch in the rice creating a creamy texture. Risotto is not difficult too cook if you’re used to cooking rice. Even if you aren’t, it’s not difficult. If you have your ingredients on hand, it just needs a little patience and some stirring.
It also helps to use warm broth as it helps cook the rice faster and achieve that creamy texture easily. I used vegetable broth, which is basically the water in which I boiled some vegetables. Use water if you don’t have broth and let the vegetables in your Risotto give it the flavour. A very basic Risotto is nothing more than rice cooked with wine sometimes, broth or stock with salt, butter and cheese. So if you use water, there’s not much flavour in it.
I have kept my Risotto simple and light without wine or any cheese. You can add saffron if you like for colour and flavour. A sprinkling of grated Parmesan just before serving, will give you a richer dish and a different flavour.
I have used Idli rice here. You can use Arborio or any starchy medium grain raw rice. One of my friends makes her Risotto with a starchy boiled rice. Would that be authentic? Of course not, but this is an inspired dish! What is important is to use a starchy rice to get that texture/ consistency typical of a Risotto.
Start with toasting the rice grains in the fat. Then add the broth a ladle at a time. Let it simmer as the rice absorbs the liquid and cooks. You would typically need about 4 to 5 times liquid to rice, so you need to watch the rice as it cooks. Once the rice becomes soft and creamy, it is ready. This should take about 20 minutes or so.
You can mix in a blob of butter at the end if you like for a creamier finish. Italians like their Risotto al dente like their pasta. While I like my pasta that way, I prefer my rice well-cooked (but not mushy) like a South Indian. Risotto is also best eaten warm,just like Khichdi or Pongal.