Risotto is one of those cuisine-defining dishes.
For Italian food, it’s the pursuit of perfection through simplicity. Elusive and difficult to achieve, but there are a few secrets—the absolute best ingredients, technique perfected over generations, and the right combination of flavors—that can put you on the right track.
Anyone brave enough to attempt risotto knows how fickle it can be—needy for attention, prone to overcooking, and once past the point of no return, unsalvageable. But when it’s done right, risotto is ethereal, luscious, and soul-satisfying. Just thinking about that perfect bite, washed down with an elegant Pinot Noir or Brunello di Montalcino, makes the eyes close and mouth water.
So what’s the secret to restaurant-quality risotto? It’s all in the rice. Aged carnaroli rice to be exact.
Buy Carnaroli Rice: Acquerello Carnaroli Rice, Aged 1 Year (250g)
The Goldilocks of Italian Dishes
Risotto, at its core, is rice cooked in broth. The constant stirring during the cooking process breaks down the starch from the surface of the rice. The starch dissolves and thickens the cooking liquid. If the broth is the supporting actor, rice is the star of the show.
Starch and structural integrity are the keys to a quality risotto rice. You need the right amount and type of starch (higher proportion of amylopectin to amylose) to add body to the sauce. You also need a rice with sufficient structural integrity so that it retains its shape through the cooking process.
Not enough starch and your risotto will lack that textbook creaminess. Not enough structure in the rice and the risotto will turn to a mushy mess.
We’re looking for that just-right risotto rice.
Types of Rice Used for Risotto
There are a range of rice types available for risotto making. Most of them are short- to medium- grain with high starch content. Despite what Italian-American supermarket brands will lead you to believe, there is no such thing as “risotto rice.” Instead, there are speciality rice types that are perfect for this Italian classic.
While there are dozens of rice cultivars available for risotto in Italy, there are three main options available in the US.
1. Arborio Rice
The most common rice of choice for risotto. Arborio is a weaker structured rice with high starch content. It tends to create a thicker sauce and break down almost completely during the cooking process. This means arborio can overcook easily. Even perfectly cooked arborio risotto tends to be on the softer side. It may be the most common, but it’s definitely not the preferred option.
2. Vialone Nano Rice
Vialone Nano rice comes from the Veneto region of Italy. It has small, round, and highly absorbent grains. It has a high starch content and retains its structure better than Arborio. Compared to Carnaroli, it tends to have a more “soupy” texture, which is not necessarily a bad thing depending on the effect you are going for. It also has an interesting earthy flavor not found in the other options.
Vialone Nano is more difficult to find in the US, but an excellent rice option for risotto.
3. Carnaroli Rice
That brings us to the “king” or “caviar” of risotto rice.
Carnaroli is, hands-down, the best rice for risotto. It has long, big, tapered grains that retain their structure through extended cooking. It also has more starch than both of the previous options, offering plenty of creamy texture. It absorbs more water in the kernel instead of dissolving on the surface, which creates a risotto that is both creamy and structured without the stickiness common in arborio-based risotto. Carnaroli strikes the perfect balance of starch and structural integrity.
Easy to work with and resistant to overcooking, this is the best rice for risotto.
Chef’s Secret to the Best Risotto, Aged Carnaroli Rice
The right kind of rice—Carnaroli rice, specifically—makes all the difference for great risotto. But that’s not the whole story. There’s one other element that takes a homemade risotto to restaurant quality: aged rice.
Aged carnaroli rice contributes a real depth of flavor—nutty, bready notes—that doubles down on the creaminess of the finished risotto. Once you taste the flavor of an aged rice, there’s no going back. When it comes to aged carnaroli rice, there’s only one name to know.
Only One Name in Italian Rice, Acquerello
Acquerello is one of the world’s best producers of Carnaroli rice.
This rice comes from a 500-year-old tradition. Acquerello is estate-grown and processed in-house by the Rondolino family at Tenuta Colombara in the heart of Piedmont’s Vercelli Province. This family business has mastered the art of rice through innovation and tradition.
Acquerello promotes a natural environment with a rich biodiversity. Once harvested, the rice passes through 20 processing and selection steps that ensure consistency and quality. Only the best rice becomes Acquerello.
One of these steps is the helix process, considered the best method for rice whitening—the grains gently rub together avoiding damage. During the whitening process, the germ separates from the rice grain, but Acquerello has a patented process that restores the germ to the grain, enhancing the nutritional value of the rice. Acquerello is a white rice with the nutritional value of a brown rice.
From there, the rice is left to age for a minimum of one year and up to 7 years, depending on the product. Aging greatly enhances the flavor, bringing out the inherent richness and nutiness within the rice. The aging also stabilizes the starch. This allows the rice to absorb the cooking liquid and retain the structural integrity of the grain.
For these reasons, top restaurants around the world, many of them Michelin-starred, work exclusively with Acquerello rice. It’s their secret weapon to incredible risotto. Now, you too can achieve restaurant-quality risotto at home.
Buy Carnaroli Rice: Acquerello Carnaroli Rice Aged 1 Year (8.8oz)