Thousands of colours and flavours of the most popular cereal – rice

Rice is by far one of the world’s most popular and ancient ingredients. It adapts to almost any flavour and it’s easily combined with other ingredients whether it’s meat, fish, seafood, crustaceans, vegetables or chocolate. It goes great with spices and throughout history chefs have come up with countless recipes for us to savour all year round even today. Rice is also a favourite ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine and irresistible recipes for all kinds of risottos just go to prove that.

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Depending on its shape, there’s long-grain, medium grain and round-grain rice. Brown rice, basmati, jasmine and Indian wild rice fall under the category of long-grain rice. When it comes to its culinary use, it’s mostly added to stews, other meat dishes, salads or served with vegetable sauces. Round-grain rice is indispensible when making risottos, mostly because of the starch released during the cooking process, which makes the risotto creamier. Arborio, splendor, verona, acquerello and numerous others are the most well-known varieties of round-grain rice.

Aside from its use in Mediterranean cuisine, rice is a common ingredient in traditional recipes of continental Croatia. It’s an indispensible ingredients of sarma and stuffed peppers, while rice on milk or sutlijaš (a type of rice pudding) makes an old dessert prepared when our grandmothers were children. Delicious risottos are prepared all around Croatia and they can easily be adapted to the season and local ingredients. Our search for the secret of the best risotto took us to Istria, Zadar and Split.

The interior of Istria contains the best restaurants, agricultural tourism and family-run farms. Genuine dedication to gastronomy and the pursuit of continual improvement has given us the very best names in the Croatian restaurant scene and restaurant San Rocco is definitely one of them. Under the creative leadership of head chef Teo Fernetich restaurant San Rocco forms the backbone of classic Istrian cuisine. In addition to awesome courses, this restaurant will give you an opportunity to enjoy the products of the finest local winemakers, olive and other producers. Their excellence has been recognised by esteemed guides such as JRE and Michelin and they’ve received quite a few culinary awards. They shared some of their knowledge with us. With chef Teo Fernetich we prepared the ideal seasonal dish. Namely, risotto with Kvarner shrimp and asparagus.

We opted for this classic risotto because of the best local ingredients. If you heed all the advice, you’ll get a phenomenal result that’ll differ substantially from other renditions of this classic recipe. Choosing the rice is step number one. We recommend you use Carnaroli, which is one of the best Italian medium-grain rice varieties (50 grams of rice per person will do just fine). Frying the rice is the single most important stage of preparing a good risotto. Fry the rice in olive oil for 40 seconds. Once the rice starts changing colour and smelling of popcorn, that’s when you start adding the vegetable stock. Add a bit of salt and pepper at this stage (don’t overdo it with the salt). You can prepare the vegetable stock by cooling carrots, onion and celery. Make sure the stock is hot when you add it to the rice. Add it gradually while continuously stirring in the same direction. You should then clean the Kvarner shrimp and separate the tails (4 to 5 smaller shrimps or three larger ones per person will suffice). Then you should clean the asparagus. The best way to do it is by tearing each asparagus with your hand into 1 centimetre large chunks starting from the tip to the hard part you’ll remove. It takes 14 to 15 minutes to make a good risotto and you should add the wild asparagus and Kvarner shrimp after seven to eight minutes. After 14 to 15 minutes it’s time to remove the rice from the stove, add a spoonful of cold butter from the refrigerator and give it an energetic stir. You can finish the risotto off by decorating it with two boiled asparagus – Fernetich describes.

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After Brtonigla we went to Zadar to the family restaurant Bonaca where the woman of the family Rajna Knežević runs the team of chefs and the entire tavern together with her husband Ante. Given that they’re renowned for using fresh and local ingredients, we were glad that they had decided to showcase their spring risotto, which is also called rižoto žardinjo.

In order to prepare this risotto, we recommend you prepare as much fresh seasonal vegetables as possible, Arborio rice, which is a round-grain rice variety, while having a good bottle of wine is no less important. We recommend Gewürztraminer made by Iločki podrumi for this risotto. First we chop the vegetables. We’ll chop broccoli, courgettes, eggplants, tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley and carrots for our risotto. We sauté the vegetables in olive oil. You put the rice to cook, while the vegetables are being sautéed. The rice can be half-done. That’s just five to six minutes of cooking after the water simmers. The you add the rice to the vegetables and keep cooking while adding vegetable stock all along. You should add some wine when the risotto is almost done – she revealed.

We headed to Split and the famous restaurant Kadena, which has recently been included in the Michelin guide, in order to try the truffle risotto. Head chef Nikola Eterović uses rough rice or unmilled rice to prepare his truffle risotto.

Rough rice is best when it’s steamed in seawater or with saffron, but we’ll prepare it in a different way in this dish. You need to put the truffles into a wooden aerated dish filled with rice. Truffles are usually stored in rice. But this time rice is added because the rice will absorb the truffles’ aroma. After the rice has been left to stand, you can just cook it in vegetable stock to ease the flavour. It’s also important not to add any spices other than salt. Once the risotto is almost done, you can add some dry wine, preferably Malvasia or Cognac. When serving the risotto, grate some truffles on top – Eterović describes.

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