Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe, exporting around 60% of the rice it produces. Rice plays an important part in Italian cuisine, especially in colder regions such as Piedmonte, Lombardy and Veneto. Each region has a preferred variety: Carnaroli and Arborio in Piedmont and Lombardy, Vialone Nano in Venice and Verona.
The history of rice in Italy
Probably rice was introduced to Italy during the late Middle Age, around 14th century, brought in by Venetian and Genoese merchants from the east. It’s not known if Italian farmer adopted the new grain immediately, since the large amounts of water needed to flood rice fields could cause the conditions for malaria. Quickly, rice became a staple food in the Po valley and over time rice growing to very corner of Italy (above all in Northern regions).
Types of Italian rice
By law, Italian rice is divided into six categories based on grain size and quality: comuni, semifini, fini, superfini, parboiled and integrale (or whole); each type of rice fits into one of these categories.
Here, some of the most common Italian rices:
- Arborio: the best known superfino Italian rice. It has short, rounded, pearly grain and it has the unique capacity to absorb as much as five times its weight in liquid, while maintaining its shape.
- Vialone Nano: a semifino Italian rice, it has a slightly longer grain than Arborio. It has good absorption and it is able to take more robust flavors with flair.
- Carnaroli: the best high quality superfino Italian rice. The medium grain is rounded and extremely absorbent. Carnaroli rice is cooked traditionally as risotto alla Milanese.
How to cook Italian Risotto
Risotto is the most famous rice dish of Italy and there are many recipes and combinations: with mixed herbs, vegetables, saffron or bone marrow. The basic method to cook risotto is always the same, all that changes are the additional ingredients. Italian risotto is made with great care, braising the rice and allowing it to absorb the broth. The braising of the rice start with the rice being toasted in soffritto – a mix of onion, garlic, carrots and celery, sautéd in olive oil – before broth is ladled in slowly.
The most famous risotto recipe is risotto alla Milanese, a special risotto flavored with saffron. Also, risotto with truffles or made with red Barolo wine are very usual recipes, together with the typical seafood risotto from Venice.