Carnaroli rice is a type of short-grain Italian rice sometimes used in risotto dishes. While arborio rice is the best known type of rice used in risotto, particularly in the United States, many cooks prefer carnaroli. Carnaroli rice, like arborio, contains more starch than other rice varieties. However, it retains liquid and holds its shape better than arborio rice and has a larger grain, making for a more textured dish.
Carnaroli is among the more expensive rices used for risotto, and it can be hard to find as well. Italian markets are most likely to sell carnaroli rice, but other specialty stores or mail order suppliers may carry it as well. Carnaroli is grown in the Italian towns of Novara and Vercelli, located between Milan and Turin. Though Americans may know Italian cuisine for its pasta and pizza, rice is extremely important in Northern Italy. In fact, Italy is the largest producer of rice in Europe.
Risotto made with carnaroli rice can be a side dish or a main dish, depending on the ingredients. In Italy, it is often used as a vehicle for seasonal vegetables. The extra starch in the rice is responsible for the creamy texture of risotto, so it is important not to wash the rice grains before cooking them. The high amylase starch content in carnaroli rice allows it to keep its shape while absorbing flavors well and resisting over-cooking. Carnaroli makes a risotto that is fluffy, but not sticky.
While arborio rice is the most consistent variety, carnaroli is best suited to delicate, sophisticated dishes, such as risottos featuring white truffle or saffron. Though it is a short-grain rice, carnaroli is more elongated than other Italian risotto rices, giving it a more elegant look and feel. Carnaroli rice is sometimes referred to as the king of rice. In addition to risottos, it may be used in other gourmet dishes, such as a timbale or a rice salad.