Any discussion of rice must include Italy. After all, the country is the leading producer of the cereal grain in all of Europe. Most of the rice is produced in Italy’s north, particularly Lombardy, Piedmont, and the Veneto, all locations where we have cooking vacations. And if you’re talking about rice and an Italian meal, chances are you’re talking about risotto, the hearty meal that can be flavored just about any way you want.
That’s because while all Italian risottos are typically made with the same basic ingredients — rice, butter, wine, and stock — they can also be prepared with just about any meats or vegetables, typically based on the local ingredients of the area. Plus, risotto dishes can be infused with a range of flavors depending on the broth and wine you make it with.
The original risotto though is from Milan, where a confluence of factors led to the dish’s rise. Those factors included the slow-food movement (yes, back in the 16th century!), that Milan was under Spanish rule, and the growing availability of rice. It’s also thought to be a variation of another rice dish, riso sabbath col zafran, popular with Venetian Jews. Today the risotto alla Milanese, made as it is with saffron, is one of the most famous and popular risottos of all.
But, even with the rice growing in the north of Italy, risotto is popular throughout the country as different regional wines and ingredients impact the versatile dish. Down in Tuscany, home to our Classic Tuscan Table cooking vacation, you can put your own touch on Risotto al Chianti Classico, just to name one example.
And the influence of risotto has definitely spread. In Portugal, risottos can often be found on the menu and include seafood, or chicken and asparagus, as this recipe.
Over in France too, they have their own version of risotto, although it can be made a bit differently. One example of this is the truffle risotto recipe.
Discover more history of your favorite foods, and more recipes, with one of our cooking vacations!
By Liz Hall
Sign up to receive our newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best cooking vacations.