Thursday, August 16, 2012
In Italy it’s still pretty common to eat seasonally. No one would ever dream of having pomodori al riso or friselle in the dead of winter because where are earth would those tomatoes come from? And anything with cavolo nero is for the cold months only. The eating seasonally thing is mostly tied to ingredients, obviously. But there are certain dishes that could - in theory - be made all year round, but are reserved for specific seasons because, well, they just are.
Insalata di riso is one of those dishes. It’s simply boiled rice, with chopped raw vegetables as well as a few preserved ones. Olive oil, salt and pepper and you’ve got your dish.
In theory you could eat it all year round, varying it season by season with the addition of different vegetables.
But no. I think there is probably an Italian law that says insalata di riso can only be eaten during the summer. And just in case you are confused as to the official start of insalata di riso season, just take a stroll down any aisle in a supermarket and you are sure to be faced with a large display of Condiriso.
Yes. There is a specific mix of preserved vegetables that is used for insalata di riso that is only available during the summer.
While I’m usually on the 'fresh is better team', like any good Italian housewife, I too make sure I stock up on these little jars.
But of course I’ve developed my own version of rice salad over the years, which manages to mix both fresh and preserved vegetables. Why include anything in a jar, you may wonder? Because I like rice salad that includes that pickely, briny taste. Little chunks of olives, carrots and onions that have had a good long vinegar soak. And I always choose the ‘leggero’ version of condiriso, which means the goodies are preserved in brine, not in olive oil, which makes them not only lighter, but even more sour.
I also break from traditional Italian insalata di riso tradition by using the wrong kind of rice. Most Italians use parboiled rice, which is labeled clearly “per insalata di riso.” The grains cook up all nice and separate, with no gummy starch thing happening.
But I perfer the chewiness of arborio or cannaroli, which makes my insalata di riso much less caffetteria style. (at least I think so)
When do I make insalata di riso? In the summer, naturally. (I’m not that iconoclastic). Specifically it’s become a tradition to make it on the days my sisters are arriving for their annual visits from the States. Since I never quite know exactly what time they will get to the house in Umbria from the airport in Rome, it’s easier if I have something already made and waiting.
Sadly, this year I have no visiting sisters. But I made it the other day anyway. It tasted just as good, and certainly looked as festive as always. But there was definitely something missing.
Insalata di Riso
1/2 kilo / 1 pound of rice
1 jar of condiriso (or a half cup of canned corn and some chopped green olives and cocktail onions), drained
1 red pepper, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of lemon
salt & pepper
3 cups chicken broth
Bring chicken broth and enough water to fill a pot large enough to cook all the rice, to boil. Add 1 tabelspoon of salt to the water. Add rice and cook until done, but not mushy. Drain.
While rice is cooking, put chopped vegetables in a large bowl. Add olive oil and lemon juice.
Add warm drained rice to vegetable mixture. Stir and let come to room temperature. Taste and adjust for seasonings. Add as much pepper and lemon juice as you’d like.
Variations: You can also add just about anything else you’d like. Other herbs like basil and chives are great. Also any other chopped raw veggies like zucchini or scallions. If you want throw in some tuna, to make it more of a one dish meal, that works too. Or, if you're feeling porky, thinly sliced hot dogs are often my secret ingredient. For real. Feta is lovely. And if course, if you're feeling healthy, any sort of grain will do: brown rice, farro, even barley.