Food & Drinks

Risotto recipe by top Italian Chef

chef

Italian Ambassador to Kenya, Amb Alberto Pieri (right) and celebrity Chef Giacomo Gaspari (left) preparing Risotto. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Gaspari is the executive chef of the Diamonds Thudufushi and Diamonds Athuruga Resorts in the Maldive Islands.
  • Chef Gaspari held a live cooking show at the residence of the Italian Ambassador to Kenya where he prepared risotto, a porridge-like rice dish from the northern part of Italy.
  • There are different ways to make risotto, and Italian chefs pride themselves on their specific recipes.

Giacomo Gaspari was an opportune moment to learn the finer points of making risotto, a signature Italian dish. Gaspari is the executive chef of the Diamonds Thudufushi and Diamonds Athuruga Resorts in the Maldive Islands.

He was in Nairobi during the World Week of Italian Cuisine in November, an annual celebration of Italian food.

Chef Gaspari held a live cooking show at the residence of the Italian Ambassador to Kenya where he prepared risotto, a porridge-like rice dish from the northern part of Italy.

Risotto is gaining popularity in Kenya and I love it for its deliciousness, but it is notoriously tricky to cook.

“Rice is a typical food in Italy but it came from China, brought by Marco Polo,” said Gaspari, who hails from Veneto in north-eastern Italy.

“Rice is usually the second course in a meal after the pasta and is used also to make salads, soups with rice and other different recipes,” he said.

There are different ways to make risotto, and Italian chefs pride themselves on their specific recipes.

“Sometimes, chefs compete to see who makes the best risotto,” said Chef Gaspari.

Local ingredients

The chef used carnaroli rice, a type of Italian rice specifically used in making risotto and vegetables available locally.

food

Chef Giacomo Gaspari. PHOTO | POOL

“I used Kenyan beetroot, mushrooms, carrots, sage, lemon, and even the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese,” he said.

Risotto combines items that are hot, cold, crispy, and fresh. Onions, he said, are spicy and sweet, enhancing the flavour of the rice.

Some Michelin-star chefs do not use onion and wine in risotto because it can alter the taste of the rice. But for Chef Gaspari, “It is the best thing because, as we say in the Italian tradition, rice is born in the water and dies in the wine.”

He also pointed out the health benefits of cooking with wine such as anti-inflammatory properties and helping in the digestion of rice which is high in carbohydrates and calories.

During the demonstration, he explained that toasting the rice before adding the liquid “opens up the grains and aids the cooking process, otherwise the risotto will have a raw texture.” Wine has the same effect on the grain.

Cooking risotto requires a lot of attention, and the timing is essential to avoid overcooking or undercooking. Chef Gaspari explained that if the wine is not sufficiently reduced, an acidic flavour remains.

Fresh sage herbs should be added when the risotto is almost cooked otherwise there might be a bitter taste. For most chefs, good food must have five elements.

“You must smell the aroma of the food, the food must have texture, look nice, and be flavourful when you taste it,” he said.

He recommends stirring the risotto gently both clockwise and anticlockwise, which stops the rice from sticking to the bottom.

“For perfectly cooked risotto, the rice should be a bit elastic.”

Plating and garnishing are naturally part of food enjoyment. The dinner plates were decorated with a swirl of thick, red beetroot sauce.

A drizzle of olive oil, sage, a sprig of fennel leaf and some beetroot cubes completed the dish. It was the best risotto I have tasted in a long time.

Chef Gaspari also took his cooking techniques and sustainability mission to the TASK Catering Training Institute of Nairobi. Trainee chefs learned about 22 different types of pasta and he demonstrated to them the art of making pasta from scratch.

At the Diamonds Dream of Africa hotel in Malindi, Gaspari’s live cooking demonstration focused on the nutritional value of fish and other kinds of seafood. Parmesan ravioli with a calamari sauce was the dish of the day and by all accounts, it did not disappoint.

This was the sixth edition of the World Week, a celebration of annual events held around the world by Italian embassies, cultural institutes and trade agencies.

The theme this year was the traditions of Italian cuisine and creating awareness about sustainability in the food chain. Over 15 restaurants in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Malindi created special menus and offers for World Week.

Ingredients

-250 gm carnaroli rice

-50gm grated parmesan cheese

-50gm onion, chopped

80 gm butter

-1 glass dry white wine

-Vegetable stock (celery, sage, onion, carrots, mushroom)

-8 beetroot chips

-20gm beetroot power

-100gm sliced mushrooms

-Fresh sage

-1 lemon

-Salt

-Butter

-Olive oil

Method

-In a deep saucepan sauté the chopped onion in butter. Add rice and stir for several minutes to let the rice toast.

-Pour in the wine and stir again to evaporate the alcohol. Add the vegetable stock, enough to completely cover the rice and stir well.

-Leave to cook on low heat for about 18 minutes, stirring regularly.

-Add the sage when the rice is almost cooked and keep stirring.

-When the risotto is cooked, add grated parmesan and butter.

-Taste and season if necessary.

-Leave it in the pot to cool down for about 3 minutes before serving. Plate the risotto and drizzle some olive oil.

-Toss mushrooms in olive oil and lemon, then serve with the risotto, beetroot crisps and grated parmesan cheese.