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Carnaroli rice (Recipe: risotto alla Milanese)


Arlecchino. Pantalone. Pulcinella. Carnaroli.

One of these things is not like the others.

The popular characters of the Commedia dell 'arte, Italy's reigning comedy improv for the past five hundred years, might tickle the funny bone, but only carnaroli tickles the taste buds.

Along with its supporting cast (arborio, baldo, and vialone nano), carnaroli plays one role in my pantry.

One starring role -- in dozens of risotto variations.

Carnaroli, a relatively new short-grain rice hybridized in the 1950s, comes from Novara and Vercelli, two towns between Milan and Turin in northern Italy. It grows nearly twice as tall as the other rice varieties, making it difficult and expensive to harvest. (Be sure that the carnaroli you buy is from Italy, as it's now being grown in other countries, such as Argentina.)

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.

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. If you can't find carnaroli, substitute arborio, which is available in most supermarkets these days (sometimes marketed as risotto), or any other short-grain variety.

Try carnaroli in risi e bisi or gumbotto or riz au lait á la framboise, or work your way through any one of a thousand variations of risotto.

Then, take a bow. Carnaroli, the star of the pantry, will make you a star in the kitchen.

Risotto alla Milanese

The ultimate, classic risotto, made with so few ingredients that each one needs to be the best you can afford. Once you understand the method of risotto, you can make it with anything you find in your pantry. Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as appetizer.


7 cups chicken broth (homemade stock or low-sodium store-bought)
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp saffron threads
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup finely minced onion
2 cups carnaroli or arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste


Bring broth to a boil in a large pot and set aside at a simmer on the stove. Boil 1/2 cup water and pour into a glass measuring cup; add saffron threads and set aside. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet. Add onion, and sauté until soft but not brown, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the rice, making sure to coat each grain, and let toast for just a minute. Remove pan from heat, and stir in the wine. It will bubble up, so keep your distance! Return the pan to the heat. When the liquid is absorbed, begin adding broth, 1 ladleful at a time, letting each bit of liquid be absorbed. After 2 cups are added, stir the saffron water into the rice. Continue adding broth, reserving 1/4 cup at the end. Remove from heat. Add butter and cheese, and stir vigorously for 2 minutes. Add in reserved 1/4 cup broth and stir to desired creaminess. Season to taste with black pepper, and serve immediately.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Green herb risotto
Risotto with grapefruit
Mushroom risotto

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I've always used arborio, never canaroli. Do you know the difference between the 2?

I've never used canaroli, but it seems to be popping up everywhere these days. Absolutely adore risotto, in every one of it's forms!

I've got an opened carnaroli packet as well, and am planning to make risotto this weekend. And as I've never made risotto alla milanese before, I might just go for that:)
What's baldo - another risotto rice? I must admit I thought there are only three. I'm ashamed now, and ready to hear more from the masters...

I want to melt into a puddle of this risotto. It is amazing how so few ingredients can turn into something so decadent. I'll have to have my eye out for this stuff.

This recipe is sublime - simple, lovely ingredients, and my favorite saffron! Nothing better in the world!

Ahhh... Lydia. I finally get agave nectar marked off my list and now there's something new to take its place! I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for canaroli!

I am so impressed with your blog. Truly, it is absolutely wonderful-
This dish combines some favorite flavors, risotto and saffron...amazing. Will put this dish at the top of my "to make" list. Thank you for sharing!

My mouth always starts to water whenever I read risotto recipes. I love it. I don't think I've ever had a risotto that I didn't enjoy. Hope my luck doesn't run out.

For some reason I am having a hard time finding Carnaroli rice here right now. I do not know what happened. I too prefer this sort. When we were in Switzerland over New Year's I did buy a few packets but being in a risotto craze at the moment I see the bags getting empty quite fast!

Oh, Lydia! Have mercy - risotto is my absolutely favorite dish and all I'll have for lunch is a dull sandwich... ;)

Vicki, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Carnaroli grains are slightly longer, which means they absorb more liquid, which yields a slightly creamier risotto. You can always substitute one for another. It's fun to make the same recipe with both, side by side, and you'll see the difference.

Toni, it's definitely getting a bit easier to find the carnaroli rice, not so much in the regular supermarket but in specialty stores. Hooray -- it's really my favorite of the risotto rices.

Pille, baldo is new to me, too, and I haven't yet tried it. It is grown in the US, but originally from Italy.

Callipygia, you can certainly make this risotto with arborio. But use good saffron, good cheese, good wine -- it really makes a difference. And for me, the carnaroli makes a difference, too.

TW, agreed. Simple, elegant. And it makes the best arancini (those wonderful fried balls of leftover risotto)!

Michelle, you've already tried the agave nectar? Good!!! I hope you'll always discover something fun when you visit here.

Katia, welcome to The Perfect Pantry, and thanks so much for your kind comment. Hope you enjoy this recipe.

Sher, same here, I've never met a risotto I didn't like -- except for the occasional restaurant risotto that is just too salty. But there's no combination of flavors that doesn't work for me.

Meeta, you know I will send you some carnaroli right away!

Patricia, now you will have something to daydream about at work -- a lovely bowl of risotto, maybe for dinner?!

Don't you notice that risotto is on menus everywhere now. Kind of like grits... the 'new' side dish!

Happy Birthday today Lydia! :) Hope it's a great one!

Very informative post on risotto. I'll have to keep an eye out for this kind rather than the usual arborio...looks good!

I can only find carnaroli rice occasionaly but I agree that it makes a mighty perfect risotto! I really like the basic recipe you posted as it puts the rice in first place rather than hidden under a ton of flavors (although I have never met a risotto I did not like either!)

Sandi, I wish we had grits on the menu more in New England!

Hillary, thank you!!

Mike, I think you'll be impressed with this rice; it's great in risotto and rice pudding, too.

Tartelette, have you seen baldo in your local markets? It's grown in the US -- in Missouri, I think -- but I haven't seen it here in Rhode Island. I'm so curious to try it. I've always preferred the simple risotto recipes -- not too many ingredients and flavors added -- so the rice can shine.

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