In Venice, sitting down to a comforting bowl of risotto al nero di seppia is a ritual cherished by many families. “It’s a traditional food that people eat at home,” says restaurateur and chef Orazio D’Elia, founder of Matteo.
Risotto al nero di seppia is a regional twist on risotto, a classic dish with a long history in northern Italy. “It’s got all these beautiful ingredients – the squid ink, the cuttlefish – when you blend them all together, all this creaminess comes out,” says d’Elia.
The Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay of the Adriatic Sea, has long been famous for its bounty of seafood. A common catch from the lagoon is cuttlefish, a staple ingredient in classic Venetian dishes. It’s the addition of squid ink that not only gives the dish a spectacular colour, but also saltiness and texture.
There are a few important tips to remember when cooking risotto. A common mistake is choosing the wrong type of rice, says d’Elia. Risotto rice varieties tend to have round medium or short grains that are high in starch and low in amylose, like arborio and vialone nano. Orazio’s variety of choice is carnaroli. “The grain is more robust – it keeps al dente,” he says.
Resist the temptation to constantly stir your risotto – too much stirring will release an excess of starch and result in a pan of gluggy rice. Instead, toss the rice through the oil and onion when you first add it to the pan – “we call it brillare, to shine up all the grains,” says d’Elia – before adding stock in increments as the liquid reduces.
Once the rice is cooked, the dish is ready for mantecare – where the remaining ingredients are folded into the rice until it is all’onda, like a wave. “You emulsify everything together,” says d’Elia. “It has to look like a wave in the pan. When you lift up your spoon, everything should fall at different times, not all in one piece. That’s when you have a good risotto.”
Just a short drive from Venice is the city of Padua, where brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri created the classic Italian aperitif Aperol in 1919. Like risotto al nero di seppia, Aperol has become synonymous around the world with traditional Italian culture. In the 1950s the Aperol spritz emerged as one of Italy’s favourite cocktails – a title it is yet to relinquish. The refreshing aperitif is the perfect precursor to D'Elia’s recipe for traditional squid-ink risotto. “Aperol goes very well with seafood,” says the chef.
Risotto al Nero di Seppia
3L good quality fish stock
Extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 chillies, finely chopped
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
500g fresh, cleaned cuttlefish (with tentacles), cut into thin strips
200ml dry white wine
1 large white onion, finely chopped
500g carnaroli rice
200g tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 tsp of squid ink (ask your fishmonger to collect ink when cleaning cuttlefish)
½ bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
1 lemon zest (and some drops of juice)
Bring fish stock to the boil and keep on low heat.
In a separate saucepan, heat extra virgin olive oil with garlic, chilli and anchovies. Cook gently, being careful not to brown the ingredients. Add cuttlefish and toss through oil. Add half the white wine and reduce a little. Add 200ml of stock and cook for 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.
In a large pot, sweat the onion with extra virgin olive oil. Add the rice and toss though. Add remaining wine to the rice. Stir through and let it evaporate. Add 2–3 ladles of fish stock, the tomatoes and ink. As the liquid in the rice reduces, add another 2–3 ladles of stock. Continue to add stock in increments as the liquid continues to reduce. After about 10 minutes add 3/4 of the cuttlefish sauce into the rice, keeping the remainder for plating up the risotto.
After another 5 minutes of adding small quantities of stock to the rice, the rice should be ready for mantecare (folding in the rest of the ingredients until it has a creamy consistency). Fold in parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, butter, salt and pepper to taste. The risotto should be creamy and all’onda (wave-like).
Plate risotto, placing a scoop of the remaining of cuttlefish sauce on each plate. Garnish with fresh parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Aperol.