Fall is time for Risotto in many parts of Northern Italy. Rice cultivation in Italy can be traced back to the 14th century in documents between two noble families, the Sforza of Milan and the Estensi of Ferrara, in which they describe an exchange of rice. Today, rice is grown on more than 200,000 hectares Italy in regions such as Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia, the Veneto, Tuscany, Sardinia, Apulia and Calabria.
Cultivating rice is a very arduous process and for decades entailed having people spend hours with their feet in water. A famous Italian movie about the rice harvest called Riso Amaro showcases the difficulties quite clearly. In earlier times, women were chosen to come and pick the rice.
Today, the rice harvest is mechanized. One tradition which has not changed is the use of Carp in the rice paddies to help get rid of unwanted insects and weeds. The Carp eat both and thereby help to purify the water.
In addition to being extremely difficult to harvest, rice is often misunderstood. It is not just an easy meal but is also a very smart choice from a nutritional standpoint. Rice contains amino acids which are needed to help our cells grow while it contains no sodium or fat and can work with most diets. Rice is also highly digestible and easily matched with vegetables, meats or other elements, even with strawberries, Champagne, and Asti D.O.C.G.
Rice can be used in a variety of dishes which range from appetizers to the main course and dessert.
One Italian rice that has received the Indicazione Geografica Protetta designation (IGP) is the Nano Vialone Veronese from Verona. It received this honor in 1996. Just like in the wine world, there are different species of rice. Nano Vialone comes from the Japonica species. The roots of this species grow in the fertile fields around the city of Verona.
Here’s a nice Pumpkin risotto from the Consorzio of Nano Vialone Veronese.
Ingredients for four
- 10.5 oz “Veronese Nano Vialone Rice”
- 14 oz. broth – One medium sized pumpkin
- 3.5 oz. Butter
- ½ spoonful Mascarpone cheese
- ½ onion – 1 shallot
- ½ glass dry white wine
- 3.5 oz. Grated Parmesan cheese
- Herbs (Marjoram & Thyme)
- A sprig of rosemary
After having washed the pumpkin, carefully remove all the peel, the seeds and the fibers. Cut into 3/4 inch square pieces. Finely cut the onion and the shallot. Melt the butter on a low heat with a drop of oil, fry the onion and the shallot. When they are soft but not golden, add the pumpkin: fry for a few moments and add the white wine and some of the broth., Add the herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the pumpkin is soft but has not become a pulp, add the chopped rosemary and remove from heat. Bring the broth to the boil and add the rice. As soon as it starts boiling again lower the heat until it is bubbling lightly. After 14 minutes add the rice to the pumpkin sauce, the Mascarpone cheese, some pepper and some more chopped rosemary. At 18 minutes remove rice from heat and cream with grated Parmesan cheese, and a touch of olive oil (depending on taste).