Italian Rice: an insight into a popular ingredient The recent news about the government of China officially opening up to the import of Italian rice brought back this product in the limelight of the world stage. While rice has seen its global consumption increase over the last ten years, Italy keeps being confirmed as the largest rice producer in Europe.
Always associated with pasta, our country also boasts a long history of rice cultivation: the earliest documentation related to it dates back to 1475 when Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, started promoting the cultivation of this cereal in Lombardy and Piedmont where the fertile wetlands of the Po river valley provided suitable growing conditions. The so-called “rice belt”, which now spans the northern regions of Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Lombardy and Veneto, became famous towards the middle of the last century thanks to the hard work of the mondine, the female workforce employed to manually remove the weeds form the paddies. Their hard work and subsequent fight for better rights had such an impact on our society that it eventually left a mark in our culture by being featured in several movies and books.
It should not come to a surprise, then, that rice is one of the most loved ingredients in the Italian kitchens, both the private and the restaurant ones. Hundreds are the varieties listed in the official register compiled every year by the Ente Nazionale Risi, the national authority that safeguards the quality of the Italian rice. Since each rice variety lends itself to different preparations, the secret to choose the right one simply lies in the recipe one wishes to prepare. Among the traditional varieties Carnaroli, for example, is the ideal one for risotto while Arborio is perfect for rice puddings; Roma rice gives its best when used for flans and timbales whereas Vialone Nano is the main ingredient of Risi e Bisi, the classic Venetian dish prepared with top-quality rice and green peas.
Italian rice varieties are divided by law into four different categories based on grain size, each with specific cooking qualities corresponding to different water uptake times: Originario round-rice grain, Medium-rice grain, Long-grain type A and Long-grain type B. Continuous research has also recently led a few producers to launch a brand new range of aged rice: stored in temperature-controlled silos for one or more years, this type of rice is proving to have a lower moisture content that improves its taste, aroma and cooking characteristics.
In its intact packaging, rice has an average shelf life of 24 months. Once opened, it should be kept inside an airtight container and stored in a cool, dry part of the pantry. In order to preserve its organoleptic properties, it is necessary to keep it away from direct sunlight and humidity as well.