In northern Italy risotto is a traditional food in colder seasons. Any region has its own sauces and ingredients for it, different consistence (i like it firm, for example, but in Milan is more fluid), and sometimes even different kinds of rice itself. (I only use raw brown rice, go figure!)
But all of us follows the very same basic steps to prepare it for cooking: the toasting. It’s something we learn by heart watching our mothers cooking, who probably learnt it watching their mothers, and so on. It’s like an untold rule preserved during generations, and you really don’t know why you do that. At least, I didn’t, until i took my cooking courses, which mostly taught me why part of doing something because i already knew how.
Anyways, let’s get back to our rice. As i told you, you have to toast it. It’s a simple step that allows the rice to keep its compactness and gives taste to the grains.
You can toast the rice “a secco” without fats, or with fats.
Both process requires to prepare a ground of onion or shallot to pur in hot melted butter to fry for some minutes. The main difference is in the toasting without fats, you add the onion with butter later, after you toast the rice, instead of toasting the rice with it.
However you do that, you just have to put the rice on a pot and gently stir it to taost it omogeneously for a few minutes, until your rice is hot when you take it in your hands. That’s the moment when it’s toasted, and you’ll add a glass of white wine to lower the temperature back to normal and stop the cooking for a second.
Once almost evaporated, I start with the broth.
There’s a big fight in Italy about using fats or not in toasting rice, and also about using olive oil instead of butter, with some using even lard.
Honestly I really don’t care, the result will tell, and it’s all about your taste. I personally use both fat and without fat toasting, but i never use olive oil due to the low burning point. If I have to toast with fats, I use butter or a spoon of lard. I’m more incline to use the dry toasting when i’m making rice with more delicate tastes like fish or vegetables, and use butter or lard otherwise.
I rarely put the onion while toasting though, adding it later instead, to avoid it to burn in the process.