Renowned as the risotto king at home, Renato Piccolotto, executive chef at the legendary Orient-Express Hotel Cirpriani, cooked for us at the Victoria Market cooking school.
With the hotel closed for its annual winter refurbishment, General Manager, Giampaolo Ottazzi brought Renato and staff from -15˚ in Europe to a 35˚day in Melbourne.
Asking assembled food writers what rice to use for risotto, he quickly dispells the myth that arborio is best, “we used to use Arborio, then Roma…no more; the secret is Carnaroli from northern Italy,” he said. Renato is regularly flown to Hollywood by Hotel Cipriani neighbour, Sir Elton John, to cook his famous risotto al dente for 700 of the singer’s closest friends at his annual Oscar’s party.
His secret ingredient is the carnaroli itself, a plump high starch rice which retains shape and bite (al dente) during the cooking process, its amylose ensuring creaminess. Chef shares the recipe he serves to us – Risotto Primavera con verdure dell’Estuario (Risotto with locally grown spring vegetables).
200 g carnaroli rice
2 lt beef & chicken broth
100 g asparagus (green & white)
50 g fresh peas
30 g peeled tomatoes
5 g bell pepper
50 g grated parmesan
1/2 young onion
150 g zucchini
1 stalk white celery
2 zucchini blossom
100 g French beans
100 g butter
Renato carefully selected all his fresh ingredients from Queen Victoria Market – at home these would come straight from his extensive chef’s garden behind the hotel. Finely diced vegetables are added to a pan where he has heated butter with half an onion; this is to bring out the vegetables’ colour.
In another pan he browns the remaining finely chopped onion in the butter until tender, stirs in the rice (tip: he did not rinse the rice), which he cooks until translucent. Chef remains vigilant by the pan, stirring, folding, stirring (obviously another secret). Then adding a ladle of the mixed stock (“it must be boiling”), he cooks rapidly until the rice gets hot and the stock is absorbed. Adding a little more stock, he repeats the process – more gentle stirring. After 10 minutes in goes the sauteed vegetables, another 10 minutes of heat sees the rice cooked and the stock absorbed.
Renato pauses to show us that the mixture is not dry, but creamy. Tearing the zucchini flowers by hand he drops them into the mix, allowing it to cool before stirring in parmesan and seasoning to taste. Beside him a large bowl of butter cubes brings a groan from one writer, aghast at the amount of butter we’ll soon be eating….Renato’s eyes flash and in a defiant retort another few cubes fly into the Risotto in a gesture reminiscent of a gauntlet being flung…Chef has spoken loudly without uttering a word. His risotto definitely had the last word: magnifico!
– Graeme Kemlo