Rice Choices for Risotto

The Italians like to have many choices when it comes to food. Take prosciutto for example. Americans are basically familiar with two types of prosciutto; Prosciutto di Parma (from the region of Emilia-Romagna), and Prosciutto San Danielle (from the Veneto region of Northern Italy). There are many other regional prosciutti, but I am afraid you will have to go to Italy to enjoy them. So it should come as no surprise that Italians like to choose different rice varieties for their risotto. The three most popular are Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone Nano.

Arborio Rice

Arborio rice is grown in Italy's verdant Po River Valley. Named after the town of Arborio, where it is grown this medium-length, round-grained rice has a color which leans to tan with a distinctive white dot at the center of the grain. Its primary use is for risotto. Many prefer the Arborio rice for their risotto dishes since the rice develops a creamy texture around a chewy center and has exceptional ability to absorb flavors, such as is characteristic of porcini mushrooms and truffles.

Carnaroli Rice

Of the three rice varieties most often used for risotto Carnaroli rice is the most prized. It is referred to as a superfino (superfine) rice. It is grown in the area around Novara and Vercelli in Northern Italy. These two towns are located between Milan and Turin in northwest Italy. The rice is prized for its striking white kernel, uniform starch release and firmness. One of its very strong points is that each grain maintains its distinct shape in the risotto. During the cooking process the Carnaroli rice continuously absorbs added liquid. The end result is an exceptionally creamy risotto.

Vialone Nano Rice

The Vialone Nano variety of rice is classified as a semifino and is grown in the Verona area of Italy. The unique characteristic of Vialone Nano rice is that its medium-large, semi-long, rounded grains are capable of absorbing twice their own weight in liquid. This makes it ideal for creamy risottos. Another desired quality is the fact that the cooking time is much faster than Arborio or Carnaroli. Vialone Nano is also difficult to overcook. It is a relatively new rice. The variety was created in the 1930s.
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