Archive for ‘Rice’

May 15, 2011

Need a spring clean? Risi e bisi

Risi e bisi

Sometimes I need comfort, but not too many calories.  I need to pair a boost of spring energy with a warm hug. I need to have something exciting enough to fulfill my taste buds, without challenging them with exotic flavours. There is  one food to match the bill. Risotto. Namely, risotto ai piselli.

In Italy piselli are heralds of spring – early spring. Here up North they are more of a herald of Summer, but never mind: the important thing is that I know that every year I can count on my fix of fresh peas. Shelling the plump pods, getting my nails green, already feels like healing from whatever is aching. I love the way the pods crack open and fill the air with their sweet smell. I love running my hand in the fresh bounty of peas. I like them so much that when they are really tiny I’d eat them raw, until I feel a bit queasy.

Today I bought fresh peas for the first time this year. My partner had already made me promise – weeks ago! – that I’d hold my usual culinary experiments and cook the very first peas in form of a ‘humble’ risotto. One of his favourite dishes, and I have to admit, now that I think about it, also one of mine. I never feel like cooking risotto: I used to eat so much of it growing up, that I have developed a thick crust of indifference to it. I will not accept any risotto less than outstanding, and it would rarely excite me. But when I actually cook it, well, it feels like meeting a friend after a long time, and finding out that the years did not change you in the end, and you still are really fond of each other. A very good feeling.

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January 6, 2011

Paella calabrese

Paella CalabreseI love the food here in Calabria. And on the other hand, it is quite different from the daily food I want in my life, the kind of food I really love.

On traditional items, it is the best food in the world. On anything just outside of the traditional boxes, it is totally rubbish or, most likely, it simply does not exist. Traditional food is simple, based on local ingredients, more of a mountain cooking than a sea one: long cooking times, no spices apart from chilli and occasionally fennel, no sweet-sour tastes, no mixing of sweet and savoury flavours. Sicily might be visible, actually in these clear winter days it  looks almost as if you could touch it, but the Arabic influences are a world apart.

The traditional food is simple, but this does not mean that the taste itself is not extremely refined. Everything tastes just ‘right’ and the variations in a recipe are almost negligible. Why would you want to mess up with something that is just perfect as is? Among the traditional items, the best ones,  according to my humble, but internationally trained, taste, are coffee and salami. They are just out of scale from anywhere else. You can find similar quality coffee in just two places in Europe: Napoli, where it was ever better, and Trieste, where it was more northern (lighter and thinner) but seriously good. Both in Italy, though somehow apart, like all proper Italian places they don’t feel as if they were Italian. In Reggio Calabria coffee is short and dense and full of aroma. The locals really love it, and the best bars are always crowded. I am endlessly fascinated by the barman’s ability to keep up with the orders and never miss a single client, always keeping cool and moving with grace, whispering among screaming people, and yet somehow always heard by the intended person. I could stare at them for hours – but the wait is never more than a few seconds even in the most crowded bar.

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October 18, 2010

Cooking rice

Risotto with wild mushrooms

Rice is a visual as much as a taste memory of my childhood.  In the flat part of  Northern Italy where I grew up, it is one of the most visible fields out in the landscape, together with corn and wine. Only, corn is easy to spot only in late summer, thanks to its sky-high (for a child) plants. Wines are naked and almost invisible in winter and often the wines are cut low. Rice is impossible to miss.  For a long period of time the fields are flooded and create a beautiful, haunting landscape of water reflecting the sky, where the only solid objects appear to be the few streets and the birds, often lost in the mist, with a few far away brick houses. Then the fields will explode in the most vivid green later, while sprouting, and then turn to darker colours and eventually to yellow.

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