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Portrait of Antonio Stradivari by Alton S. Tobey, 1971. Collection of Oberlin College Library, Oberlin Ohio. To learn more about the artist: http://www.altontobey.com/AA.html#ago

Cremona is a province in the Lombardy region of Italy and occupies the central section of the Padana Plain, so the whole territory is flat, without mountains or hills, crossed by several rivers and artificial canals, most of which are used for irrigation. The river Po, which is the longest Italian river, is a natural boundary adjoining the Province of Piacenza. The area is about an hour south of Milan by train.

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cremonaviolinmaker

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The city of Cremona has a strong musical tradition. The cathedral, built in the twelfth century, provided a focus for musical activity and, by the sixteenth century, the town was the musical center of the region. Even now it attracts people to hear performances by ensembles and attend the many musical festivals and concerts. The city of Cremona is the birthplace of Stradivarius. The town became renowned for the violins and other musical instruments that were made here by many members of the Stradivari, Amati, Guarneri and Bergonzi families of luthiers, who were all prominent citizens of Cremona.

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The principal economic resources of the province are agricultural. Rice is grown with the help of water drawn from the canals. Other crops include maize (corn) and barley and to a lesser extent, soya and sugar beet. Grapes are cultivated, wine is produced and there is also a silk industry. The farms in the province are some of the most productive in the country. Beef and dairy cattle are raised here. Beef serves as a main ingredient for local dishes and the milk is used to create traditional cheeses, as well as butter and cream. The area is famous for its food specialities, such as nougat (Italian: torrone) and mustard, the famed Mostarda di Cremona, a sweet and spiced fruit preserve, served with the classic stew called bollito misto.

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Cremona’s location at the border of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna brings influences from both: charcuterie like cotecchino and salame; grana padana cheese; stuffed pasta specialties like marubini and tortelli di zucca and the tramezzini sandwich, made on spongy, white bread stuffed with ham, tuna, eggs and artichokes and slathered with mayonnaise.

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Rice became known in Europe, after being imported from Egypt and west Asia. It was known to Greece (where it is still cultivated) by returning soldiers from Alexander the Great’s military expedition to Asia. Large deposits of rice from the first century A.D. have been found in Roman camps in Germany and the Moors brought Asiatic rice to the Iberian Peninsula in the 10th century. Records indicate it was grown in Valencia and Majorca. In Majorca, rice cultivation seems to have stopped after the Christian conquest, although historians are not certain.

Muslims brought rice to Sicily, where it was an important crop long before it is was grown in the plains of Pisa (1468) or in the Lombard plains (1475), where its cultivation was promoted by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, and demonstrated in his model farms. After the 15th century, rice spread throughout Italy and then to France, eventually reaching all the continents during the age of European exploration. Rice is a main component in Italian cuisine.

Veal and Rice Croquettes

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups (440g/14 oz) short-grain rice
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ cup (50 g/l⅔ oz) grated Parmesan
  • All-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Dry breadcrumbs

Meat Filling

  • 1 dried porcini mushroom
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 125 g (4 oz) minced veal
  • 2 slices prosciutto, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 100 ml (3½ fl oz) white wine
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Directions

Cook the rice in boiling salted water for 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain, without rinsing and cool.

Put the rice in a large bowl and stir in the egg, egg yolk and Parmesan. Stir until the rice sticks together. Cover and set aside.

To make Meat Sauce: Soak the mushroom in hot water for 10 minutes to soften, squeeze dry and finely chop.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the mushroom and onion; cook for 2–3 minutes until soft. Add the meat and cook, stirring, for 2–3 minutes until browned.

Add the prosciutto, tomato paste, wine, thyme and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Stir in the parsley. Set aside to cool.

With wet hands, form the rice mixture into 10 balls. Wet your hands again, pull the balls apart and place 3 heaping teaspoons of the meat sauce in the center of each.

Remold to enclose the filling; roll in flour, beaten egg and then breadcrumbs. Chill for 1 hour.

Deep-fry the croquettes in oil, two at a time, for 3–4 minutes, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and keep warm while frying the remainder. Serve immediately.

Insalata di Riso

cremonaricesalad

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1/2 kilo / 1 pound of rice
  • 1 jar Italian condiriso (or half cup of canned corn and some chopped green olives and cocktail onions), drained
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice of lemon
  • Salt & pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth

Directions

Bring chicken broth and enough water to fill a pot large enough to cook all the rice, to boil. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water. Add the rice and cook until tender. Drain.

While the rice is cooking, put the chopped vegetables in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and lemon juice.

Add warm, drained rice to the vegetable mixture. Stir and let come to room temperature.

Taste and adjust for seasonings. Add as much pepper and lemon juice as you’d like.

Variations: You can add other herbs like basil and chives. Also add any other chopped raw vegetables, like zucchini or scallions, and/or tuna and feta cheese.

Risotto Ubriaco (Drunken Risotto)

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Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1  onion, finely chopped
  • 4  cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2  tablespoons/30ml olive oil
  • 1  cup/250ml smoked pork belly, diced into 1/2 inch (5mm) pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups/875 ml carnaroli rice, unwashed
  • 2  cups/500ml full-bodied red wine
  • 6  cups/1.5L light chicken stock
  • 2  tablespoons/30ml butter
  • 4  tablespoons/60ml grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Heat the onion and garlic in the oil. Add the diced pork belly and stir to mix well.

Add the rice and toast it, stirring constantly to prevent sticking, for 2-3 minutes, until it is very hot but not browned.

Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid is absorbed or evaporated.

Add the chicken stock, a ladleful at a time, letting the rice absorb most of the liquid before adding more stock until the rice is tender but firm.

Be careful toward the end not to add too much stock –  the risotto should be creamy, not soupy. This process should take 16-18 minutes in total.

When the rice is cooked, remove the pan from the heat. Add the butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano; stir vigorously to fluff. Serve at once in individual bowls.

Italian Rice and Bean Soup

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped fine
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked or 2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern or cannellini white beans, drained
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried  Italian seasoning
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth or stock
  • 1 cup rice
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cook rice according to package instructions.

While the rice is cooking, heat olive oil in a large stock pot. Add garlic, onion and celery and cook until soft, for about four minutes.

Add stock, tomatoes and seasoning and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer, stir in the beans and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in the cooked rice and serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese,

Radicchio and Fennel Risotto

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Ingredients

  • 1 litre (1¾ pints) vegetable stock
  • 90 g (3½ oz) butter
  • 225 g (8 oz) fennel, finely sliced
  • 6 shallots, finely chopped
  • 350 g (12 oz) arborio or carnaroli risotto rice
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) dry white wine
  • 175 g (6 oz) radicchio, shredded
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 15 g ( ½ oz) fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 15 g ( ½ oz) fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 75 g (3 oz) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus extra to serve if liked
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep hot.

Melt half the butter in a large, deep frying pan, add the fennel and shallots and cook gently for 5 minutes, until tender.

Add the rice and stir well until it is covered with butter. Add the wine and shredded radicchio and season with pepper. Cook for 2 minutes or until the wine has evaporated.

Add a ladleful of hot stock to the rice and cook over a moderate heat, stirring, until it has been absorbed.

Continue adding the stock by ladle, stirring constantly, until it has all, or nearly all, been used and the rice is just tender. This should take about 18-20 minutes.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the lemon zest, parsley, basil, Parmesan and the remaining butter.

Cover and leave to rest for 1 minute, then stir again. Serve with more Parmesan if required.

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