For years I couldn't figure out risotto. I'd try recipe after recipe and was never able to get it just right. Either it wouldn't be creamy enough (despite my endless stirring) or it would be overcooked and practically mush.
Leave it to me running off and studying in Italy to finally figure out how to get it right.
On one school trip, we were lucky enough to visit a risotto rice producer not too far from my university, in the northwest region of Piedmont. There they only grow one variety of rice called carnaroli. Before that point, it was a variety I really hadn't heard too much about, as most recipes call for arborio rice, a variety you can pick up at practically any supermarket.
While the producers sung their praises of this particular variety, I wasn't quite convinced. What made it that much better than the bags of arborio I usually bought? Both are medium-grain rices, but they claimed carnaroli to be the "king," saying it made for a better risotto. I listened to their spiel and ate the risotto lunch they had prepared. Yes, the risotto was cooked perfectly, but a well-regarded chef has made it, so I still wasn't sold on the product — that is, until I used it to make my own risotto at home.
Suddenly my risotto was as good as what I've eaten at restaurants, and I wasn't using a new recipe — the only thing I had changed was the rice. The spiel was accurate: The rice has a higher starch content and firmer texture than arborio, which results in a creamier risotto that's much less resistant to overcooking. The grains are also slightly longer and keep their shape better when stirred.
All of this makes for a product that's a whole lot more forgiving. While arborio can go from al dente to gummy and unpleasant in a matter of seconds, carnaroli holds onto that perfect chew even if you stir it a few too many times past its doneness. The results are always creamy and spot-on, which has allowed me to transform from someone who'd practically given up on making risotto at home to someone who now makes it on the regular (heck, I made it last night!).
So do yourself a favor and keep an eye out for carnaroli the next time you plan to make risotto. Check your local speciality food store or Italian grocer — I've even seen it at Whole Foods occasionally. It's also readily available online. Trust me on this one — it's worth the effort to seek it out.
Read More: How to Make Risotto at Home
(Image credits: Faith Durand)