The perfect risotto pairs well with Barolo in my Bra. And notes on the meaning of risotto. No, it doesn’t mean “little rice”!

Today’s post is the third in a series on my favorite places to eat in Bra (Cuneo province, Piedmont) during my seminars at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in (my) Bra. The toponym Bra comes from the late Latin braida, meaning a suburban field for farming.

It’s one of those things that Italian translators (like me) get peeved about: false cognate English translations of Italian diminutive suffixes.

Here’s a good example that illustrates how the confusion can happen.

The Italian word chierico means cleric and it’s used for priests, deacons, and bishops in the Catholic Church.

The word chierichetto is a diminutive of chierico by means of the diminutive suffix -etto. But it doesn’t mean little cleric. In Italian, it denotes an altar boy. The altar boys may be smaller than the clerics or they may be bigger. The point is that the diminutive suffix doesn’t necessarily make something little or bigger (as the case may be for the augmentative suffix). No, what’s important to note here is that yes, the diminutive suffix sometimes but not always refers to size. But more significantly (excuse the pun), it alters the meaning of the root word, sometimes with unexpected results for the learner of Italian language.

Brunello doesn’t mean little dark one. It means literally somewhat dark. Similarly, Dolcetto doesn’t mean little sweet one. It literally means somewhat sweet. (Btw, Franco Biondi-Santi once told me that while he couldn’t say for certain, he believed that Brunello got its name from a favorite family-owned horse.)

And something even more important is in play here. Dolcetto may mean literally somewhat sweet. But its meaning in this context is shaped by the value of the suffix in a way that has no parallel in English. In Italian it’s called the vezzeggiativo, a term of endearment.

In other words, Dolcetto really means a sweet grape that we are fond of. It’s a sweet little grape. Even for English speakers, it’s evident that sweet doesn’t refer to the sweetness of the grape but to our fondness of it.

The verb vezzeggiare (whence vezzeggiativo) means to fondle.

So it’s only natural that translators like me get upset when people say that the word risotto means little rice.

The suffix -otto generally has a disparaging, negative meaning. A casa is a house. A casotto is a shed (or figuratively, a big mess).

But in many cases, it’s also an expression of fondness. An orso is a bear. An orsacchiotto is a teddy bear.

A risotto isn’t a small, lesser rice. No, it’s a rice that’s been enriched with stock, seasonings, and cheese.

I had a fantastic risotto on my second day of teaching in Bra last month. The newly harvested spring asparagus was delicious and the rice (carnaroli, if I’m not mistaken) was cooked perfectly.

The restaurant on this day was the trattoria in my hotel, Badellino, where I always stay (in part because it’s the only place where the wifi is reliable). It’s more an old-school pensione than a hotel (not much services offered). But the owner Giacomo is friendly and the restaurant is solid.

I know people are freaking out right now that I paired a Barolo with asparagus. But in Italy, people are a lot more chill about shit like that.

I drank the wine throughout my meal and it was fine with the rice as well thanks to its acidity and rich flavor.

And holy shit, 2015 Barolo Paiagallo by Mirafiore? The wine was insanely good and only cost €40. Yes, I’ll say that again, FOR-TY EU-RO! That’s one of the things I love the most about my Bra: the approachable wine prices. That wine was a real treat. I drank about four glasses that night and saved the other two for the nights that followed. Brilliant. (Disclosure: I write and consult for the Mirafiore’s U.S. importer.)

Of course, the wine was the PERFECT pairing for the last dish, a slice of gorgonzola with a dollop of cognà on the side. Check out my notes on cognà here.

Thanks for reading and letting me share this meal with you!

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