Rice Within Italian and World Cuisines

Rice has been a staple in the Italian cuisine for hundreds of years. The first documented recipe containing rice dated back to September 12, 1475 when Galezzo Maria Sforza, the Duke of Ferrara wrote a letter asking for 12 stacks of rice. This may be the earliest date of rice in the Italian heritage however we know it isn’t the first known time of rice. Rice is widely used in many other cultures as well and has been for centuries as a staple in normal day cuisine.

Typical white rice is produced by polishing raw brown rice. The outer layers are removed which makes the rice easier to cook and eat. This is because the fiberous outer layers are removed making the rice easier to penetrate with water during cooking times. With removing the skin this also makes the rice easier to chew and eat because the process exposes the germ of the. rice. However, by removing the outer skin of the rice you are removing the nutritious elements present in the rice. This is why white rice has little t no nutritional value, and brown or wild rice is packed with fibers and nutrients.

The first rice dish that comes to mind when thinking of Italy is Risotto. A classic dish created with Arborio, or Carnaroli rice. The two are short-grain rice’s that are milky in color from the amount of starch present in the grain. They are mainly grown in the Po Valley in Veneto Italy. The grains are typically chewy, creamy, and firm when cooked right in a Risotto dish. A test was done to see if risotto could be made with different long, medium and short grain rice’s and it wasn’t possible because the structure of the rice was broken in the final stages of releasing the starch from the rice. The difference was the starch content and stability of the grain, this proves that Arborio, or Carnaroli rice, is so important to Italian cuisine.

A typical risotto recipe includes: Arborio or Carnaroli rice, wine, broth of any flavor, salt, and parmesan cheese. Here is a traditional Italian recipe for risotto:

olive oil (and/or butter)

1 1/2 chopped onion


4 ounces of rice per person

4 cups chicken broth


white wine



parmesan cheese

The rice is prepared by heating the stock to a constant simmer. While the stock is simmering the rice is toasted in the olive oil. After the rice is clearly opaque on every grain and every side of the rice, the wine is added and cooked until the wine is completely absorbed. Following the wine, the stock is added ladle by ladle allowing the stock to completely absorb into the rice between adding more stock. After each ladle is absorbed another is added, until the starch creates a creamy richness in the rice, yet the rice is still al dente itself. Finally the rice is given a nutty finish with parmesan and butter and is then seasoned with salt and pepper. The rice is whipped in the pot with the butter and parmesan to release the final amount of starch into the dish, this process is called Mantecatura. This is a traditional recipe for parmesan risotto.

Rice is also of course a huge staple in Asian cuisine. The grain has been dated back in ancient Asian culture since 12,000-11,000 B.C. Over 90% of the worlds consumption of rice is done between six different countries in Asia. The six countries are Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Loas, Thailand, and Vietnam, each person in these countries average consumption of rice is over 150 kilos per year. Basmati and Jasmine rice are the two main rice grains consumed in Asia. The rice isn’t just used as a grain, it is also ground and created into rice flour that can make rice noodles. These are another staple in Asian cuisine.

Another rice that many people haven’t heard of is Chinese black rice, it’s a grain cultivated in china that is high in amino acids, zinc, and copper. It is known for its black color when raw, and deep purple color when prepared.

Some different preparations of rice are: from Vietnam, Bahn Ch’ung, a cake made from glutinous rice, mung bean, and pork. Bi Pong Moun, a Cambodian dish made of fried eggs and white rice. And Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, made with rice noodles, beef and a highly flavorful broth.

 

Traditional Bahn Ch’ung recipe is:

  • 200 g glutinous rice, soaked overnight
  • 100 -150 g mung beans, soaked overnight
  • 100 g pork, cut into chunks,seasoned with
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Phrynium leaves

First the mung bean is boiled for 45 minutes in salted water, and then mashed. Place two leaves overlapping in foil and place a layer of the rice on top of the leaves. Topped with a portion of mung bean puree. Lay the pork in the middle and finish with beans and rice, creating a cake like patty. Fold the mixture into the leaves and form a square like shape. Place the leaf wrapped patties in a pot and cover with water, allow to boil for 6 hours. Allow to cool and serve with pickled onions.

Africa is a final area of the world that relies heavily on rice as a main component of daily nutrition. Rice has been cultivated in Africa for over 3500 years. The earliest known dates of rice in Africa are from 1500 B.C. The rice was originally from the Niger River, and later from Senegal. However, unlike other regions of the world, African rice was never mixed as a hybrid with other types of rice, it is completely different from Asian grains. Rice helped conquer the famine in Africa in the early 1200’s.

Indigenous African rice is one of the least-known major cereals. This is because it is rarely exported and used locally. The rice is cultivated when the Niger River Delta over flows, locals go out in canoes and harvest the rice as it floats to the top. This rice is known as a weedy wild rice. The Native Americans used this technique as well when cultivating rice.

Some traditional African dishes made with rice are: From West Africa, Jollof, a dish made with long grain rice and chicken. From south Central Africa, Coconut Rice, a dish made up of rice, pork, tomato paste, and spices. Or from Northern Africa there is African yellow rice, a dish made from cinnamon, turmeric, and saffron.

A traditional Jollof recipe is:

  • Oil – 1/4 cup
  • Chicken, cut into pieces — 1 1/2 pounds
  • Water or stock — 5 cups
  • Onions, chopped — 2
  • Red or green bell pepper, chopped — 1
  • Garlic, minced — 3-4 cloves
  • Long-grain rice — 3 cups
  • Tomato paste — 1/4 cups
  • Tomatoes, chopped — 2 cups
  • Carrots, peeled and chopped — 2
  • Green beans — 1 cup
  • Cabbage, chopped — 1 cup

First the chicken is browned on all sides and removed from the pan. The onions, garlic and peppers are added and cooked until translucent. Add the rice and toast. Add tomato paste and chopped fresh tomatoes. Add carrots, beans, cabbage, and chicken to pot and allow to simmer for 20 mins. Serve with sliced hard-boiled eggs.

Rice is commonly used around the world for many different cuisines and cooking techniques. Whether it is slow cooked, pilaf, added to soups, made into a flour or a paste it’s a staple in our worlds diet. It is an ingredient that is easy to underestimate, but should never be looked over, it is a staple in over a quarter of our worlds population.