I took a risotto cooking class at Il Forniao in June, had a great time and learned how to improve my risotto cooking technique. The risotto we made in the class was wonderful. The risotto rice that is easiest to find in America is arborio. You can get it in any supermarket in the rice section. What I didn’t know is that there are two other types of rice that make a better risotto: vialone nano and carnaroli. One of the secrets the chef mentioned was that at Il Fornaio they only use carnaroli rice. Armed with this recommendation I decided to see if there was a marked difference.
First, I had to find a place to purchase the rice. None of the supermarkets I frequent had anything other than arborio rice (sometimes the label just says risotto rice, but when you look at the ingredients it is arborio). Luckily San Diego has a Little Italy neighborhood. I stopped at Fillipi’s Pizza Grotto because I knew they had a deli along with the restaurant. Unfortunately, all they had was arborio rice. However, when I asked someone just to make sure he suggested I try another restaurant with a deli, Mona Lisa Italian Foods, just a few blocks north. Here I struck gold (or at least rice). They had all three types of rice so I bought a box of carnaroli which was only a little more than the arborio.
This past weekend we conducted the test. Although I wanted to make changes to my previous risotto recipe (e.g., adding a roasted bell pepper), I decided to make it exactly the same way and only change the rice. It was a smashing success. The arborio rice made a looser risotto with most of the flavor in the creamy sauce while the carnaroli rice absorbed more of the flavors and brought the ingredients together in a wonderful way. The drier result with the carnaroli rice had a better texture and made a better presentation.
Hands down, we will only be using carnaroli rice for risotto in my house from now on.