When people think of Italian cuisine on an Italy cooking vacation, pasta most often comes to mind, but rice — and in turn risotto — dishes are the meals to eat while visiting the Veneto region on a culinary tour. Risotto is actually so popular in all of Italy that multiple regions celebrate the flavorful dish with festivals throughout the year.
For one, on the first Sunday in May, the town of Sessame in the region of Piedmont puts together a huge feast dedicated to the dish. The town of Isola della Scala — where you’ll find miles of rice paddies, as well as a rice mill and cooking class — also celebrates risotto with a festival that runs all the way from the end of September and into October. Interested in traveling to Italy on a culinary vacation? Why not time your trip around one of these food festivals?
So what makes risotto so special? For one, it typically retains its texture even after it softens during the cooking process. Plus — and more importantly — the versatile dish wonderfully absorbs the flavors of whatever you’re cooking with, whether it be Valpolicella wine or meats like veal and pork or seasonal vegetables, such as pumpkin, mushrooms, or radicchio.
Risotto dates all the way back to the 13th century when Arabs introduced the ingredient of rice to both Spain and Italy. With the humid Mediterranean climate, rice — particularly the short-grained variety — flourished, especially in the Veneto and Lombardy regions, and these are two of the best places to try risotto on an Italy food tour or cooking vacation. Italians began making the rice using slow cooking methods, which resulted in a creamy dish, and risotto was born.
In the Veneto, Vialone Nano is one of the most popular rices. It’s both fatter and shorter than another popular rice, Carnaroli. Since Vialone Nano is also less sticky, it often yields a creamier dish.
You’ll discover all this and so much more during a risotto cooking class, in which you can learn some tricks about how to cook this special ingredient that so many Italians love and cherish.
By Liz Hall