Every culinary tradition is shaped by the geography and weather of the region in which it originated. Mediterranean cuisine is no different. The rich soil and predominantly warm temperatures favored agricultural production. It comes as no surprise that the integral ingredients (herbs, olives and wheat) are plant-based.
With time and cultural exchange, a fourth addition was made: rice. Within the Mediterranean region, countries could find different ingredients available. So for example, olives are the typical contribution of Greece whereas rice and wheat may seem to be from Italian’s influence. Despite discussions about the specific origin of food items, there seems to be consensus on the fact that most ingredients consumed in Mediterranean diets come from plants.
Much more than just pizza and pasta
Of all cuisines that developed in the region, probably Italian is the most popular. Think about it: pizza and pasta are worldwide eaten meals, and they both come from Italy! However, do not let this data bias you, Italian gastronomy is actually incredibly diverse.
Even though quite small in comparison to other European countries, the Italian Peninsula comprises one of the most varied landscapes in the world. This aspect favored the growth of different herbs. In addition, Italian regions became one in the 19th century, quite recently, which means that each one has preserved its identity. So for example, whereas in the shores seafood dishes are preferred, the story is different in the center of the country, where Italians prefer cured meats.
Breaking news! Risotto is actually quite easy to make
Among the best Italian recipes, there is one that deserves a special mention: risotto. This dish is typically made with Arborio rice, which becomes particularly creamy when cooked. A very frequent search online is Arborio rice how to cook but, fortunately, there really is no hidden secret. Arborio should be cooked as any other type of rice, this is, the water to rice ratio should be 2:1.
Despite its reputation of being a “difficult” recipe, risotto is pretty easy to prepare if you manage the art of being patient. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require a constant stirring but try instead “agitating” the pot once in a while. Another thing to take into account is water or broth temperature, it should always be warm for risotto to acquire the perfect texture.
Next, you’ll find a recipe for the traditional Neapolitan risotto. The difference with other risotto versions? Natural tomato sauce plays a major role. Give it a try!
Ingredients (2 servings):
- 1 cup of Arborio rice, uncooked.
- 2 cups of warm water with salt.
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced.
- 7 oz (200 g) ripe tomatoes, peeled and blended.
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed.
- 3.5 oz (100 g) dried tomatoes.
- Grated parmesan cheese.
- Salt and black pepper (best if freshly ground)
- Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet at medium-heat and add the garlic cloves and yellow onion. Stir often for a couple of minutes until garlic just starts to smell and onion gets translucent. Be aware that garlic will acquire a bitter taste if you burn it.
- Then, add the blended tomatoes and stir a bit to blend all ingredients well. Lower the heat, pour in two or three tablespoons of water and cover.
- Add some salt an black pepper to taste and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.
- While the sauce is reducing, heat the remaining olive oil in a pot over medium heat and add the rice.
- Stirring constantly, toast the rice for 1-2 minutes, this step will define the final texture since it will allow grains to absorb liquid gradually. Again, be careful not to overdo them, they should only be slightly golden.
- Next, pour in the water with salt and cover. Stir occasionally and bring to a boil.
- Once it hits the boiling point, lower the heat, add the dried tomatoes and wait until liquid evaporates. Try rice, it should be creamy but al dente.
- Serve the rice and spoon in enough sauce for grains to be fully coated. Add some grated Parmesan cheese on top. Enjoy!
The fact that Arborio rice is very starchy does not prevent it from making a great creamy risotto but if you want to go for an even creamier version, try Carnaroli rice type.