Risotto all Ortolana (Garden Veggie Risotto)
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
A few things in life give me more satisfaction than seeing all the beautiful colours on my plate. "Eat the rainbow", they say!
With the term ortolana we describe a dish that contains a variety of vegetables. Literally meaning "from the vegetable garden", the term can used to invariably refer to a pasta, a pizza, a risotto, or essentially anything that is loaded with veggies.
Risotto all' Ortolana is essentially a peasant dish that makes the most of seasonal produce and, as such, it is one of the most satisfying comfort foods.
The 4 secrets to making the best risotto
Risotto is one of Italy's most traditional dishes. Mastering the technique requires definitely more practice than, say pasta but here are a few tricks that I guarantee will make you a pro.
1. Choosing the rice.
You can't just use any rice, but there are three varieties that all work really well - Carnaroli, Arborio and Vialone Nano. These are rich in starch, for an extra creamy result, and have slightly larger grains which makes them harder to overcook.
Most consider Carnaroli to be the risotto rice par excellence. It maintains its firmness during cooking and loses very little of its high starch content giving a delicious creaminess to the dish. It also means it absorbs flavours better than other rices, while maintaining its shape and all its natural goodness.
2. Choosing the pot.
It shouldn't be tall and narrow, as the rice at the top will cook unevenly. It's better to use a 20cm (at least) wide, shallow pot or pan. An old pan with a thick bottom is perfect. Try to avoid non-stick pans, though they are fine to use if you don't have other choices.
3. The stock.
It's important to add this ladle by ladle to the rice, and not all at once. It's also important to not add cold stock or it will lower the rice temperature. Keep a pot of stock simmering next to the rice. You can use anything to flavour your stock but make sure the flavours complement those in your risotto. When I make stock for risotto, I only use veggies that are mild - carrot, potato, celery and onion. Avoid using for example cauliflowers or kale in your stock as the flavour would be too overpowering.
4. Follow the right steps.
Namely these are: tostatura, soffritto, sfumatura, cottura, mantecatura.
During tostatura, you toast the rice on its own on a high flame, without adding any oil or butter.
Next, you add extra virgin olive oil and finely minced onion, carrot, celery (this is called soffritto) and sauté for a few minutes.
Sfumatura is when you add a splash of wine (red or white will depend on the other ingredients - red normally goes well with red meat dishes, while white is more suitable for fish or vegetable dishes). As soon as you add the wine, you should increase the flame to high and let the alcohol evaporate for a few seconds, then lower again to medium. This step adds a bit of acidity and a lot of umami to the dish
Only then you start cottura, basically cooking rice by adding the stock. This is also when you add any other ingredient like veggies, seasoning and spices.
Lastly, mantecatura. When the risotto is nearly cooked, turn off the heat and cover the rice, letting it rest for a minute or so. Then add grated cheese, a knob of butter or a drizzle of olive oil and one last splash of stock. Fresh herbs or anything to decorate the plate is added at this stage too.
My last tip is totally optional, but for making a dish that is not only delicious but also visually pleasing, one general rule is that the shape of your veggies should match the shape of your grain. So in this case, try to cut all your veggies to roughly the same size and shape, and make sure they are all chopped quite small so their size matches that of the rice grains.
This is, as I said, totally up to you, but you probably don't want any large chunk of veggie in this dish.
And now that you have learned all the secrets to making the perfect risotto, let's move on to the recipe for this Risotto all'Ortolana.
Ingredients (for 2)
200g Carnaroli rice
800ml of veggie stock
1/2 leek, sliced and chopped finely
1 clove garlic, whole
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A splash of white wine (preferably dry)
1 small red pepper, chopped finely
1 small yellow pepper, chopped finely
1 small carrot, cubed finely
1 small zucchini, cubed finely
2 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 knob of butter
Grated pecorino or parmigiano (or both)
A pinch of nutmeg
A handful of fresh dill or parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour the risotto in a wide pan on a medium heat and let the grains get lightly toasted, tossing the pan frequently to prevent them from burning.
In a separate pot, bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the flame and keep it to a simmer.
Stir in the olive oil into the rice pan and mix well to coat, then add a splash of white wine and increase the flame to high for a few seconds, until the alcohol evaporates. Then reduce the flame to medium again.
Now, add the garlic in camicia (i.e. whole and unpeeled but lightly smashed), the leek, and sauté for 1 minute to let the leek soften.
Next, throw in the carrot, red and yellow peppers, zucchini, and porcini. Season with salt and pepper, add one ladle of stock, and sauté, mixing frequently, for about one minute.
Cooking on a medium flame, continue to add the stock, one ladle at a time, while stirring. As soon as the stock is absorbed, add one more ladle.
When the risotto is nearly cooked, turn off the heat and cover the rice, letting it rest for a minute or so. Then add grated cheese, a knob of butter and one last splash of stock. Season with the fresh herbs, a pinch of nutmeg, some more black pepper and serve immediately.