Wine, Water, and Risotto

From Acqua Panna to the most perfect risotto, the complete Tuscany experience

Risotto is clearly a labor of love, and chef Carlo Cracco showed his appreciation for the dish.

No trip to Tuscany is complete without seeing a natural water source and staying in a historical villa once owned by the Medici family, right? Check and check.

While on a recent trip to seek out the source of the natural water, Acqua Panna, I had the pleasure of staying at Villa Panna, the former holiday estate of the legendary Florentine Medici family, who acquired the estate in 1564. Located on the property is a natural reserve that encompasses 1,300 hectares, which has been protected for 400 years. The property has a variety of flora and fauna, with more than 70 deer roaming the reserve. It's breathtaking to say the least.

While the natural beauty is quite outstanding, so were the aromas that emanated from the exquisite dishes created in the kitchen at Villa Panna. Chef Carlo Cracco, chef patron of the Ristorante Cracco in Milan (which has been listed in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants) and host of MasterChef Italia, prepared a tasting menu for the guests at Villa Panna to showcase some of his signature dishes and revered old classics, like his risotto.

Cracco gave the group a personal demonstration of how he creates his famous risotto. For him, it’s all about simplicity with this dish, he said. He uses butter, shallots, white wine, rice, and then either water or beef broth. After sautéing the butter and shallots until soft, he worked in the rice and then frequently incorporated the ladles of water into the bowl.

Risotto is clearly a labor of love, and Cracco showed his appreciation for the dish. When he deemed the rice to be almost finished, he took the pot off of the heat to let it stop cooking, at which point he added more butter (or you can use olive oil) as well as cheese, before serving.

Through course after course, chef Cracco totally impressed the diners, especially when it came to dessert, where he completely outdid himself. While some of us who were dining had food allergies and specific food preferences, he created a dessert that everyone could enjoy. He took the freshest fruit in the region, including succulent peaches that were caramelized, and then paired them with a homemade lemon sorbet.

Clearly, the Villa Panna was the most perfect, picturesque backdrop in which to savor a superb meal created by one of Italy’s most renowned master chefs.


Americans have to admit, the Italians always just, simply, know how to do it right!