Heritage Grain Risotto with Roero Arneis

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Maratelli rice, a heritage variety Maratelli rice, a heritage variety

As part of the Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) with Arneis, this four cheese risotto paired with a Battaglino Roero Arneis DOCG hits all the right notes. It’s creamy but not heavy, and this light, traditional white wine cleanses the palate. Even better? The dinner is 100% Piemontese.

Heritage Grain Maratelli Rice

Alto Piemonte, located in the northern reaches of Piemonte, is an important producer of rice. Along these flat plains, rice has been cultivated since at least the late 15th century. Six centuries later, northern Italian cuisine is known for its excellent risottos. The rice cultivated in these paddies is among the world’s best in quality.

Some of the names of rice cultivars from Alto Piemonte will be familiar: Arborio, Carnaroli, or lesser-known Vialone Nano or Venere. But, like all crops, humans have managed to value a few over hundreds, pushing some cultivars out of existence and threatening biodiversity.

Cascina Canta in Gionzana cultivates the last risaie – rice paddy – of a heritage variety called Maratelli. The cultivar is a short grain rice similar to Arborio, and thus makes a very good risotto. The creaminess of a traditional risotto comes from the starches rubbed off of the grains as they’re stirred in the pot.

Cascina CantaCascina Canta: Maratelli rice that grown from seeds that had fallen on the ground.

“I’m trying to get other producers to cultivate Maratelli too,” says the producer of Cascina Canta, noting how much more environmentally friendly it is. Virtually no fertilizer is used, as the hardy, ancient variety “can’t stand them.” Plus, biodiversity is always healthier for the planet when it comes to crops.

Cascina Canta produces their rice as whole grain, white, and semi-whole grain. It’s this last that interested me. Risotto is an easy dish, an elegant primo that can be whipped up in a matter of 25 minutes or less, chopping the onions and grating fresh Parmigiano included. This quick preparation is done using white rice, though, which is poor in fiber and nutrients. But make a risotto with whole grain Arborio and you’re looking at 45 minutes to an hour.

Cascina Canta's semi-whole grain Maratelli rice cooks in under 20 minutes but retains more fiber and nutrients than white rice; though less, of course, than whole grain.


What’s Stinky, Blue, and White all over?

Gorgonzola might be Alto Piemonte’s most famous cheese. Its origins are disputed, with some documentation saying that it was made in the town of Gorgonzola, Lombardy in 879 AD; but today, over 45% of Gorgonzola production is in the province of Novara, Piemonte. While some people may call it stinky, it is pungent rather than unpleasant. It comes in varying degrees of intensity, from creamy gorgonzola dolce (sweet) to crumbly piccante (“spicy,” or pungent).

Gorgonzola piccante. Photo from www.gorgonzola.comGorgonzola piccante. Photo from

To make gorgonzola, the select bacteria Penicillium glaucum (P. roqueforti of Roquefort cheese is also allowed) is inserted into the cheese using long needles. Have you ever noticed how its blue mold grows in lines? The operation is very delicate and susceptible to outside contamination. If you are ever permitted to enter a gorgonzola cheesemaking facility, consider yourself privileged.


Roero Arneis

For this creamy risotto with its sharp, savory flavor, a Roero Arneis paired perfectly. The Roero Arneis DOCG from Fabrizio Battaglino is refreshing, light, fragrant, and no-nonsense. As he told me during a winery visit, “The wine’s cleanliness is very important.” This purity of flavor comes in part from 100% aging in stainless steel. Oak barrels would overpower its light tastes of apricot and apple.

Arneis is sometimes called the “white Nebbiolo” of Piemonte, and finds its land of choice in the Roero. An early-ripening grape, Arneis was planted in the past to attract birds, thereby driving them away from the more precious Nebbiolo and Barbera. The little amount of Arneis that was produced was made as a sweet wine used for Mass. Since the 1970s, a new appreciation of this native Piemontese variety has grown.

Roero Arneis DOCG from Fabrizio Battaglino

“Wine isn’t just a drink,” said Fabrizio that day of my visit. The personality of its producer can always be found in the bottle, along with memories of conversations and visits that came with it. In the same way, food isn’t just sustenance. Stirring the rice reminded me of the hardworking family of Cascina Canta, proud to cultivate and process all their own rice (much of the world’s rice is dumped unceremoniously together at large processing plants far from their origins), and in particular to bring this ancient variety back to life.


Maratelli Grain Four-Cheese Risotto with Hazelnuts

Top with toasted hazelnuts from the Roero for an unexpected and delicious combination of flavor and texture.

Heritage Maratelli Grain Risotto

Ingredients (3 hearty servings)

250 gr Maratelli rice (alternatives: Arborio, Originario, Vialone Nano)
1 big golden onion, chopped fine
Extra virgin olive oil
½ cup white wine or more
35 gr Fontina cheese, grated (a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from Aosta Valley; can be substituted with gruyere, mild provolone, or gouda)
70 gr mild Gorgonzola, or Gorgonzola dolce
25 gr aged Gorgonzola, or Gorgonzola piccante, crumbled
Vegetable broth, as needed (hot is best)
Toasted, chopped hazelnut
Parmigiano, to serve


1) In a wide saucepan, pour in a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add the chopped onion and sauté until golden and cooked well, about ten minutes. While it’s cooking, assemble your ingredients, stirring occasionally.

2) When the onion is cooked, toss in the rice and coat with oil. Stir 2-3 minutes, just until the rice is toasted – you might start to hear little popping noises. Add in the white wine, half a cup or more depending on taste, and let it reduce, about 2 minutes. The moment it starts bubbling, start counting the minutes according to the rice cooking time.

3) Now start adding the vegetable broth, a few ladles at a time, making sure it just covers the rice. Here is where hot broth is good: if you add cool broth, it adds to the cooking time. After each amount of broth, wait until the rice absorbs it before adding more. You will see the bottom of the pan when you stir.

4) Test your rice for doneness in the last several minutes. When it still sticks to your teeth and has several minutes to cook, add the Fontina, stirring until it melts. Add the aged Gorgonzola in the last minute or so. Allow the rice to be more liquidy than you think is right – not like soup, but a bit looser than the average risotto. When it is done cooking, add the mild, creamy Gorgonzola (which thickens it slightly).

5) Allow to cool for several minutes before serving. Serve with a grating of Parmigiano and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts. Buon appetito!

Note: How a risotto “should be” is sort of contested. Some people insist it should be loose and creamy, others say thicker is fine. It’s up to you. But remember, adding broth is like adding salt: you can always add a little bit more, but once it’s in, you can’t take it out!

Also: Because you’re not straight-up boiling the rice, the cooking time will be a few minutes longer than what’s written on the package. Just taste-test during those last couple of minutes to get it right.

June Wine Pairing Weekend Round-up: More Summer Arneis Food Pairing Recipes!

We'll be talking about Arneis and summer wine pairings later today during our Twitter chat at 11:00 ET by following the hashtag #WinePW.

Wine Pairing Weekend July: Join us next month!

In July Americans celebrate Independence Day and the French celebrate Bastille Day. July's Wine Pairing Weekend will take place on Saturday, July 11, led by Michelle Williams of Rockin Red Blog. The group will explore food and wine pairings from the United States and France. From Michelle, Get creative and make your favorite all American food and wine meal, your favorite all French food and wine meal, one of each or a combination of both! With these two regions the sky is the limit!

Cascina Canta
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel. 0321 1856359
Via Case Sparse 11 - 28100 Cascina Canta Gionzana (NO)
There is also a sales point in Turin: via Giovanni da Verrazzano, n. 51

Azienda Agricola Fabrizio Battaglino
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
V. Montaldo Roero 44, 12040 Vezza d’Alba (CN)
Tel. 0039 0173 658 156


Thank you

A big thanks to the tourism board of Novara, ATL Novara, for the chance to visit Alto Piemonte, Cascina Canta, and the rice paddies of the north.

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