Origins: Risotto — Futurism and Fascism
Food to fuel Mussolini’s new Roman empire
Risotto is easily one of the most recognisable Italian dishes in the world. The short-grained rice, butter, aromatics and stock combine to create a rich, creamy dish that offers virtually unlimited potential for add-ins and flavours.
But risotto as we know it was a relatively late arrival into Italian cuisine. In that brief amount of time, however, risotto has been many things to many people and its history is anything but simple.
Rice in Italy
Rice was first introduced to what would become the country of Italy in the 10th century. At this time, Italy was split between numerous city-states and kingdoms, most of whom were constantly warring with one another. In Christian Italy, however, the Muslim Emirate of Sicily was an outlier, but the city-states still traded with the emirate, despite religious divisions. One of the things they traded was rice.
Despite this trade though, rice spread slowly through Italy and it wasn’t until the 14th century that we find records of Cistercian monks growing rice in Vercelli, Piedmont, in Northern Italy. By the 15th century, rice was being grown in the fields around Milan in Lombardy. Both of these regions are major rice-growing regions in Italy to this day and Northern Italy is considered the Italian heartland of risotto.
It’s also from this period that we get some of the first recipes containing rice, but most were sweet recipes. However, there is a recipe from this time for what could be considered risotto. It comes from chef Maestro Martino’s Libro De Arte Conquinaria (The Art of Cooking). It contained meat broth, rice and eggs and when combined they created a kind of proto risotto.
The rice used in this recipe this was not what we today would typically consider ‘risotto rice’. At this time, nostrale (home-grown) rice was used, and while this was fine for risotto, it wouldn’t have created what we would consider a classic risotto.