Carnaroli/arborio rice (Recipe: three mushroom risotto)
My grandmother called her refrigerator "the frigidaire", and tissues "kleenex".
Though both were brand names, she meant them in the lower-case sense. The brand became the generic.
I can't remember when I first saw a package of "risotto" in the supermarket, but I remember groaning. When did carnaroli and arborio rice lose their identities to the generic?
Carnaroli, a relatively new rice hybridized in the 1950s, grows nearly twice as tall as arborio, making it difficult and expensive to harvest; it's also more expensive to buy, which is one reason arborio (the one that's labeled "risotto") is the rice you find in your regular grocery store. You can find carnaroli at any Italian market, or online from Zingermans or Salumeria Italiana.
In the photo above, carnaroli is the rice on the right, fatter than the long-grain white rice (at left), longer than the bomba rice in the middle. Arborio is white like the carnaroli, fat but slightly shorter.
Classified as a superfino because the grains are longer than 6.4 millimeters, carnaroli can absorb a staggering amount of liquid, swelling to three times its size. High in amylopectin (one of two components of starch), carnaroli produces a very creamy risotto, which is one reason chefs prefer it. The other reason is that it's a bit more forgiving; there is a longer time between when carnaroli is just cooked, and when it morphs into something you'd use to mortar a brick wall.
Either arborio or carnaroli will make great raisin rice pudding, roasted beet risotto, chicken soup with escarole, rice, parmesan and green pea pancakes, or a crockpot breakfast risotto with apples and cinnamon (though for crockpot cooking, I wouldn't spring for carnaroli).
When you're cooking with short-grain rices, note that the proportion of liquid to rice is approximately 4-to-1, compared to the 2-to-1 ratio for cooking long-grain white rice.
Store arborio or carnaroli in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, for a year or more in a cool, dark part of your pantry. Rice can handle anything except moisture.
Just don't call it "risotto."
Three mushroom risotto
A little bit of tomato paste and thyme accentuate the woodsy quality of the mushrooms. Note: if you use homemade chicken stock, you'll need to add salt when you add the stock to the rice. Serves 4 for main course, 6-8 for appetizer.
6 cups chicken or beef broth (I use 4 cups of Swanson 99% fat free plus 2 cups of water, but homemade is great, if you have it)
1 cup water
2 oz dried porcini or any wild mushrooms
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup finely minced onion
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1 cup white wine
14 oz fresh mushrooms (at least two types; I use cremini or baby bellas plus white button mushrooms), sliced
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated, or more to taste
Black pepper (at least 1/2 tsp or more), to taste
Bring 6 cups of broth (or broth and water) to boil in a large pot and set aside at a simmer on the stove. In a microwave, boil 1 cup water in a glass measuring cup, then add dried mushrooms, and set aside. Heat oil in a large straight-sided sauté pan. Add onion, and sauté until soft. Stir in the rice, making sure to coat each grain, and let toast for 1-2 minutes.
Remove pan from heat, and stir in the wine (watch out for splatters). Keep stirring for a few seconds. When the liquid is absorbed, begin adding broth, 1 ladleful at a time, letting each bit of liquid be absorbed.
In the meantime, when the dried mushrooms are soft, strain and reserve the liquid. After 3 cups of broth are added, pour in the mushroom soaking water, being careful to leave behind the sediment in the bottom of the measuring cup. After 5 cups of broth are added, stir in the fresh mushrooms, thyme and tomato paste. Continue adding one more cup of broth, reserving 1/4 cup. Stir until mushrooms have given off their liquid and almost all of the liquid in the pan has been absorbed by the rice.
Remove pan from heat. Add butter and cheese, and stir vigorously for 2 minutes. Add in reserved 1/4 cup broth, if needed to finish cooking the rice. Season to taste with lots of black pepper, and salt if needed, and serve immediately.