Risotto: More than rice
By Mark J. Macapagal
Manila Times, January 28, 2004

Chef Michele Min-gozzi of Mi Piace at The Peninsula Mani-la puts it most suc-cinctly, “Risotto is to rice, what pasta is to wheat.” Rice is the base; it’s what you start with before you get risotto.

As the man is a devotee of risotto (touted as the true measure of a great Italian chef), I’m guessing he has to sling out that explanation to many restaurant patrons who don’t see risotto as anything more than a rice dish. Truth is, the intricacy involved in risotto makes it more complicated than cooking pasta, and that much more of a taste experience.

I was quite happy to get the invitation to come over to Mi Piace to preview their risotto promotion. Usually I’ll only see one risotto option at most Italian restaurants, which is a shame considering that it is as versatile as pasta, and I don’t normally order it. Then again, since not many people can create a great risotto, I doubt I’m missing much.

I had sampled Chef Mingozzi’s food before however, and even back then, he was talking about how much he likes to make risotto, so I figured that I had to go and see if he could put his money where his mouth was.

At any rate, I was quite surprised to learn that we would be sampling the entire menu that afternoon. Sure, I was looking to sate a risoast craving thatped with black ink and squid. As expected, it had that delicious salty sea flavor unique to squid ink dishes, the main reason why they continue to be popular despite the fact that you’re left with black teeth after consuming it. The crunchy fried coating of the calamari provided a nice accent to the chewy squid.

Fifth was Risotto con ostriche e champagne or Risotto with oysters an pizza, complete with banana ketchup. With the addition of lechon, this was his customary nod to Philippine flavor.

The risotto in this dish would be consistent with the rest of the dishes that afternoon. Full-bodied and retaining a certain bite to it, was creamy and a tad runny in the mouth, essentially the correct consistency to risotto. The lechon went well with the seafood, giving more heft to the dish than it would have had with seafood alone.

Second was Risotto alla Milanese. This is a traditional risotto with saffron and veal marrow. A healthy orange color, Chef Mingozzi did not scrimp on the saffron either. The creamy risotto was complemented nicely by the buttery bone marrow.

Third was Arancino di riso con anatra e pure di prozzemolo con salsa di pomodoro fresco or Crispy fried rice balls with duck, parsley puree and fresh tomato. Quite a mouthful to say but this was actually a stumble in the offerings. Somehow the parsley taste took over the entire rice ball and neither the duck nor the tomato had a chance to make its presence felt. Historically though, Arancino is what you make out of leftover risotto (i.e. you roll it into a ball and fry it) so it might not be that surprising that it kind of felt flat.

Fourth dish was Risotto al nero di sepia e calamari fritti or Squid ink risotto and fried squid. Making a squid ink dish is common in many places. Spain has a paella made in this fashion and many a pasta is also served with black ink and squid. As expected, it had that delicious salty sea flavor unique to squid ink dishes, the main reason why they continue to be popular despite the fact that you’re left with black teeth after consuming it. The crunchy fried coating of the calamari provided a nice accent to the chewy squid.

Fifth was Risotto con ostriche e champagne or Risotto with oysters and champagne. Creamy through and through, since oysters do not really provide any resistance to the bite, the oyster’s rich flavor and the taste of champagne was all that would break the smoothness of this risotto. Thoroughly enjoyable but it might be a little light to have as an entrée by itself.

Sixth came the Risotto con tartufo nero d’estate, Risotto with black summer truffles. Now truffles are a taste experience all to themselves. Truffles can run up to the thousands of dollars for a kilo and this is because they have a flavor unlike any other in the world. The rich fungus-like flavor took center stage in this dish; Chef Mingozzi allowed the risotto to take a backseat so that the truffles could be enjoyed fully, and rightfully so.

Last arrived Terrino di 3 differenti risotti con pesto e salsa or Terrina of three different risotti with pesto and red wine sauce. Three slabs of risotto were pressed together neatly to show the colors of the Italian flag, the Chef’s salute to his homeland, no doubt. The basil flavor of pesto combined well with the red wine sauce so it was quite enjoyable to take in the three different risotti all together. Quite creative, it was an interesting end to the lunch.

While Italian food has become very popular in Manila, risotto is one of those Italian dishes that hasn’t really conquered our palates just yet. Probably it’s because of our lack of exposure to it, but if you fancy yourself an Italian cuisine fan, you should take the time to check out the myriad ways that risotto is presented. It’s as much of a staple to the Italians as pasta or pizza and, if you’re not that familiar with it, this is a good chance to get better acquainted.

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“Risotto Rules” is ongoing at Mi Piace in the Peninsula Manila. For inquiries and reservations, please call (632) 887-2888, local 2947 and 2952.

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