By Chef Joseph Lowery

Riso, Riz, Arroz

Rice is a part of so many cuisines…
Billions of people eat it daily, many of them relying on it as staple primary food. It is second only to corn in worldwide production. Rice is a part of so many cuisines all over the globe, with each culture defining it with their own customs and traditions. By legend, rice was introduced to Europe by Alexander the Great around 23 hundred years ago.  Folk lore and. popular mythology is often hard to separate from fact and historical accuracy

I can’t say for sure if any poor soul was ever actually executed…
One of my personal favorite tales is the story relating the introduction of Italian Rice to America by our third President and first foodie, Thomas Jefferson.  The list of now familiar foods that were introduced by Jefferson is both long and amazing.  During Jefferson’s tenure as Ambassador to France, the Italians held a monopoly on the cultivation of rice.  This monopoly was zealously guarded.  In fact it was a capital crime to remove rice from Italy, although I can’t say for sure if any poor soul was ever actually executed for the offense.  The story (which does seem to be accurate) is that Jefferson smuggled the precious grain out of Italy in his coat pockets.

Not surprising, China ranks number one globally…
What became known as Carolina Gold Rice had been introduced from Madagascar to South Carolina in 1685. By the time of Jefferson, this American rice was definitely considered inferior to the variety grown in the Piedmont. The future President went on to introduce the Italian rice to the planters in South Carolina where it became a vital element of the economy. Rice cultivation is still an important part of agriculture in America with the US ranking 11th overall in worldwide production.  The state of Arkansas produces the largest harvests with California, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi following in that order.  Not surprisingly, China ranks number one globally, although Italy (having harvested rice since 1468) is still the major producer in Europe.

Rice is not a water plant per se…
Rice (Oyza sativa) is considered to be the edible fruit of a member of a wild grass family originally domesticated somewhere in Asia (or even possibly Africa).  Rice is not a water plant per se, but rice is able to tolerate large amounts of water.  Due to this characteristic, rice is often grown in flooded fields for weed control.  All rice produced in the US is grown in flooded fields.

Italy alone produces approximately 50 different varieties…
From two main cultivated species (japonica and indica) come thousands of variations.  These variations include colors, sizes and forms; although in this post we will be primarily looking at the varieties offered by Avanti Savoia and how to use them in the kitchen. Italy alone produces approximately 50 different varieties and rice remains especially important to the cuisine of Northern Italy. Different types of rice are often best prepared in different ways and used in specific dishes. 

An accompaniment with just about any main dish…
Generally, rice is boiled or steamed and eaten sweetened or salted. It can be served as an accompaniment with just about any main dish.  Rice flour is used as a substitute for white flour in some recipes by people wishing to avoid wheat in their diet.  Sake is a well known Japanese alcoholic beverage brewed from rice. 

Parboiling rice is a process that dates back to ancient India.
Any rice that has had only the outermost layer (husk) removed, but with the outer bran layer left intact can be termed brown rice. The rice, when the next layers (bran and germ) are removed is considered white rice.  A balance is struck between the nutrition of brown rice and the cooking convenience of white rice with parboiled rice (also known as converted rice). Historically speaking, parboiling rice is a process that dates back to ancient India.

A relative of rice…
So called wild rice (Zizania aquatica), despite the name is not considered rice at all, but rather an aquatic plant that botanists consider a relative of rice.  Northern wild rice (Zizania palustris) is one of the wild rice species native to the Great Lakes region of the United States.  Wild rice is an important food for wildlife as well as being cherished by the Native American tribes of the area and appreciated by gourmets. 

They demonstrate their stewardship of the land, animals and air and water quality…
Avanti Savoia’s supplier of fine rice and rice products is the very Italian firm of Cascina Belvedere.  Owned by the Pico family for over 100 years, this is an award winning company dedicated to a tradition of passion and quality.  Cascina Belvedere’s rice farming operations are located in Valle Padana Vercellese, an area blessed with an abundance of water.

The Pico family continues to this day to improve their company by the quality of their rice and production methods.  By employing organic production methods they demonstrate their stewardship of the land, animals and air and water quality. The Pico family has also made a deliberate decision to sell directly to suppliers (such as Avanti Savoia), instead of supplying huge rice corporations. Their products include not only a selection of exquisite Italian rices, but also easy to prepare Risotto mixes.

AVANTI SAVOIA’S RICE AND RISOTTO SELECTIONS

Carnaroli (Japonica cultivar) is known affectionately as “Northern Italy’s pasta.”  Although Arborio rice is best known as risotto rice, many cooks prefer Carnaroli.  Both rices contain high levels of starch (amylase), but Carnaroli retains more liquid and holds its shape better, resulting in a more textured dish.  This authentic Italian favorite is grown around the towns of Novara and Verselli located between Milan and Turin.  Carnaroli works perfectly in many recipes, but especially stands out in risottos.  After cooking, the rice remains fluffy, but not sticky.  It is idea in delicate and subtle dishes such as those with ingredients like white truffles and saffron, where it achieves the status of the “king of rice.”   

Arborio (Japonica cultivar) is the longest grained of the Avanti Savoia’s Italian rice varieties.  It is named for the town of Arborio in the Po Valley.  Typically, Arborio undergoes less milling than other rices resulting in higher starch content.  This gives the rice a classic creaminess that makes it a popular choice for risottos, risotto balls, rice puddings and paellas.  Although the cooking ratio is approximately 1 cup of rice to 2 ½ cups of liquid for 15 to 17 minutes, carefully follow the recipe for the specific dish that you are preparing.  Each recipe can have its own recommended proportions.

Essenza (Basmati cultivar) is actually Italian grown rice obtained from the combination of a Thai rice variety and Pakistani basmati.  Essenza is a highly aromatic variety that has an aroma similar to that of freshly baked bread.  When cooked the grains of this rice stay separate and fluffy. These characteristics are ideal for preparing boiled rice, various side dishes and rice salads.  One cup of rice combined with 2 cups of liquid cooked for 15 minutes will produce a nice basic rice suitable for many dishes.

Venere/Nerone (Japonica variation) is naturally black colored rice which was developed by crossbreeding from an ancient Chinese strain sometimes called “Forbidden Rice.”  This black rice was forbidden to the common people because for centuries it was cultivated for the exclusive use of the Chinese Emperor and nobility.  It was highly prized for its nutritional value and allegedly aphrodisiac properties. Venere does mean the Goddess of Love, Venus. (We will be waiting to hear back from you on this claim)!  Venere/Nerone rice is wonderfully fragrant, described as having an aroma “somewhere between sandalwood and freshly baked bread.”  Now a Piedmont classic, this unique rice is grown in particular areas of the Po Valley.  When cooked, it turns an amazing black/purple/burgundy color that offers endless presentation possibilities, hot or cold.  Nutty and chewy, it does take a little longer to prepare- about 40 minutes.

Parboiled Rice (Basmati cultivar) is widely known as “the rice that doesn’t become overcooked.”  The Parboiled process begins before the milling procedure that removes the husks.  The raw rice is first washed with hot water, steam-cooked, dried with hot air and then subjected to the milling process.  This ancient process improves the nutritional content of the rice by driving the nutrients from the bran into the grain.  This leaves around 80% of the nutrients found in brown rice.  It also makes the rice harder and more waxy and yellow or beige in appearance.  Cook for 15 to 16 minutes – 1 part rice to 2 cups liquid.

Integrale (Brown Rice) has been a staple of natural food cuisine for years.  It has a nutty and chewy texture that is highly nutritional, digestible and ideal for vegetarians.  Integrale rice does require more cooking time, about 40 minutes.  The ratio is 1 cup of rice to 2 1/2 cups of liquid (water or stock).  Cooked Integrale rice makes a particularly wholesome and delicious grain “burger.”

Rosso Selvaggio (Wild Red Rice) resulted from crossbreeding of Venere rice.  It is prized for its ruby red color and appetizing aroma.  Prepared in a similar manner and cooking time to Integrale rice, this unique rice is both sweet and rich in fiber.  Think healthful and great presentation.

Originario (Short Grain Rice) Beautiful, round, pearly grains characterize this fine rice.  Its high absorption capacity makes it excellent for soups, risottos, casseroles and desserts.  Originario is also rice that also delicious simply boiled for about 15 minutes.

Ribe (Cross between Italian Rb rice, Japanese and US rice varieties) is a style of rustic rice that is able to absorb large amounts of liquid.  Its appearance is compact and crystalline.  It is enjoyed in salads, pilafs and risottos and cooks in 15 to 16 minutes.

Risotto Mixes  Risotto is a classic Italian rice dish made by blending hot liquid into a mixture of rice and seasonings that have first been sautéed in butter or olive oil.  The liquid is added a little at a time and stirred continuously as each addition is absorbed.  The result is rice that is wonderfully creamy while the grains of rice remain separate and firm.  There are scores of variations on this delectable but labor intensive dish.  The preferred rice for Risotto is usually short grained rices high in starch.  Avanti Savoia and Cascina Belvedere have teamed up to bring you four different flavors of Risotto Mixes. 

 Browse Avanti Savoia's selection of fine rice & risotto...