Story by Manos Angelakis
Rice at the Fancy Food Show
Rice, introduced to Europe by the Phoenicians in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arabs at the Iberian Peninsula, is one of the world’s food staples and you will find rice dishes in every culture and every cuisine.
There are more than 250,000 different rice varieties worldwide; as varieties adapt to the terroir they are planted eventually, after hundreds of years, they become considered local cultivars. For culinary purposes, they are divided into brown and white rice as well as short grain, medium grain and long grain, Brown rice is less processed than white rice which had the bran stripped away. Most kitchens use white rice.
In general, rice whose original source was Africa and grown in Europe, is short grained or medium grained -- for example Italian Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano, Greek Nychaki and Blue Rose, French Camargue Red rice, and Spanish Bomba. Rice grown in Asia is generally long grained, such as the over 16 Indian Basmati varieties and the Southeastern Asian Jasmine. Much of the rice grown in North America, such as a Texas-grown hybrid of Basmati and regular long grain rice, had origins in Southeast Asia.
During the last (2019) Summer Fancy Food Show, I encountered 2 new exceptional rice producers, one from Italy called Riso Buono (Azienda Agricola Luigi e Carlo Guidobono Cavalchini) from Novara, and the other Arkansas grown, Luquire Family Long Grain Rice.
Riso Buono sells two different rice varieties, each in two different packagings: a 1 kilo (2,2 lb) brown box and a Mason glass jar, 950 grams. They are Carnaroli Gran Reserva, an aged rice that I used for risotto, and Artemide, a black-hued rice with intense aromatics, which is rich in iron.
First, to test the Carnaroli, we made two dishes: a Venetian Risi e Bisi and, since the Carnaroli is close in physical shape and taste to the Bomba rice used in Spain for paellas, a Paella Catalana. Recipes following, serve 4 to 6 persons.
Venetian Risi e Bisi:
La Serenissima is known for great risottos, especially seafood risotto and Risi e Bisi, a risotto-style rice dish; since the Spanish dish had chicken and seafood, I decided on the Risi e Bisi. This Venetian classic, eaten as a main course rather than a side dish, was once reserved for the aristocracy and served on feast days. It is best in the spring when baby peas have been just harvested. Thankfully, nowadays frozen peas of high quality are available to American kitchens year-round; just defrost them for an hour or so prior to cooking. Also, I had less than a 1/4 cup of long grain rice left over, so I mixed it in with the Carnaroli (I hate to waste good ingredients).
Though paella’s origin is Valencia, the Catalans make very tasty paellas as well. Every time I go to Barcelona, in addition to tapas, I make sure to have paella at least once during my trip. Paella de Mariscos is a summer favorite in Spain for a very good reason - paella is the perfect vehicle for whatever is fresh from the sea. Most restaurants serve their paella with large prawns, but I was lucky enough to walk into Boca Grande that serves numerous paella versions, and they have one with crayfish that I prefer.
Both the rice dishes were very successful. The Risi e Bisi was creamy, but the rice kept its shape and was slightly al-dente. In the paella, the rice absorbed all the liquid but remained well shaped with a nutty taste.
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