Carnevale, also known as Mardi Gras, is celebrated in Italy and many places around the world 40 days before Easter, a final party before Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent.
The Carnival of Venice was for a long time the most famous celebration. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to the Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal and France. From France, they spread to the Rhineland of Germany and to New France in North America. From Spain and Portugal, they spread with Catholic colonization to the Caribbean and Latin America.
The most widely known, most elaborate and most popular events are in New Orleans, Louisiana. Carnival celebrations, usually referred to as Mardi Gras, were first celebrated in the Gulf Coast area of the United States, but now occur in many other states. Customs originated in the onetime French colonial capitals of Mobile (now in Alabama), New Orleans (Louisiana) and Biloxi (Mississippi), all of which have been celebrated for many years with street parades and masked balls. Other major U.S. cities with celebrations include Miami, Florida; Tampa, Florida; St. Louis, Missouri; Pensacola, Florida; San Diego, California; Galveston, Texas and Orlando, Florida.
For information on how Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans read my post: Mardi Gras Time !
Carnevale in Italy is a huge winter festival celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music and parties. Children throw confetti at each other. Mischief and pranks are also common during Carnevale, hence the saying, “A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale”, or anything goes at carnival.
Carnevale has roots in pagan festivals and traditions and, as is often the case with traditional festivals, was adapted to fit into Catholic rituals. Although Mardi Gras, sometimes called “Fat Tuesday” or “Shove Tuesday”, is actually one date – the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday – but in Venice and New Orleans and in some other places, the carnival celebrations and parties may begin a couple of weeks before.
Carnevale Di Venezia was first recorded in 1268 with mention of masks, parties and rich food. In the height of the masquerade, mascherari (maskmakers) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and guild. Masks made the Venetian carnival unique, as it took away social status and inhibition. In this way, the social order was temporarily non-existent. However, when Venice fell under Austrian rule after Napoleon’s Treaty of Campo Formio in 1798, the city and all its culture went into decline. This pre-Lent celebration didn’t enjoy a revival until almost 200 years later when, in the 1970’s, a group of Venetians decided to revive the tradition.
Masks or maschere are an important part of the carnevale festival and Venice is the best city for traditional carnival masks. Carnival masks are sold year round and can be found in many Venetian shops, ranging from cheap to elaborate and expensive. Walking through the streets of Venice, one can view a variety of masks on display in shop windows. People also wear elaborate costumes for the festival and there are numerous costume or masquerade balls, both private and public.
What foods are popular in Italy during Carnevale?
Almost every Italian town and region has some specialty in recognition of Carnevale, though in Venice, the specialty is frittelle. These fritters are fried golden brown and filled or topped with a variety of treats, bursting with sweet or savory flavors, like chocolate, jelly, fruit or meat. The enticing smells drift through the city and can be found in the cichéti stalls along the streets, where it is easy to pick up these “small bites”. In the other regions, similar fare can be found under different names, like the Lombard chiacchere, Tuscan cenci and Roman frappe. But under any name, they are all the highlight of the season for Italians and visitors alike. Other Venetian carnevale foods include “Pasticcio di Maccheroni” (a baked pasta, ricotta, meat pie), “Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia e Pancetta” (filled, rolled baked dough), “Migliaccio di Polenta” (polenta and sausage) and steaming plates of lasagnas and pastas, filled with pancetta, prosciutto, salami and sopressata.
Naples has the sumptuous Lasagne di Carnevale. In the past poorer families could only afford to make this dish once a year, therefore, it became very special and every family had their own secret recipe. There was a great deal of competiton in the local towns over whose lasagna was best. Throughout much of Italy, however, Carnevale is an occasion for eating pastries, fritters of one kind or another that are quick to make and fun to eat. During the weeks of Carnevale, it is a tradition to eat a lot of sweets because they will not be able to eat them during Lent.
Traditional Carnevale Recipes
Grande Lasagna di Carnevale
Some versions of this recipe add sliced hard-boiled eggs to the layers along with the meat.
- 1 pound dried Lasagna noodles
- 1/4 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup beef broth
- 12 oz. drained canned plum tomatoes
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 4 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley
- 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- Olive oil
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/3 pound mozzarella
- 1/4 pound prosciutto
Cook the lasagna noodles in abundant, slightly salted water until they’re al dente, run them under cold water and lay the sheets out on a kitchen cloth, covering them with a second cloth.
For the sauce:
Sauté the onion in the oil until soft. Add the Italian sausage and after it has browned add the tomatoes. Simmer over moderate heat for about an hour, adding the beef broth a little at a time. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
For the meatballs:
Combine the ground beef with the bread crumbs, egg, parsley, ricotta and half the grated Parmigiano cheese. Make 1-inch diameter meatballs from the mixture and dredge them in the flour. Heat a little oil in a skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides, about 10 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon, place them on paper towels and keep them warm.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
Dice the prosciutto and mozzarella. Oil a baking pan about the length of the pasta noodles. Place a layer of pasta in the bottom of the pan, then a few meatballs, some of the sauce, some of the diced ingredients and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used; then bake the lasagna for 15-20 minutes until bubbling. Let the lasagna rest for ten minutes before serving.
Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia
Rolled up pizza with sausages and pancetta is a specialty for Carnevale.
- 4 1/5 cups (500 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 10 ounces (250 g) mild Italian sausage
- 6 ounces (150 g) thinly sliced pancetta
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- A pinch of powdered cinnamon
- Black pepper
Make a mound of the flour on your work surface, form a well in the middle of it, crack the eggs into the well, add a pinch of salt and mix together with your hands; knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, then cover it and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Remove the sausages from their casings and crumble them into the skillet, together with the pancetta. Brown the meat for 4-5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
Roll the dough out about 1/8 of an inch thick (3 mm). Spread the remaining oil over the dough, then distribute the sausage and pancetta evenly over the dough as well.
Sprinkle the meat with black pepper to taste, dust very lightly with cinnamon and roll the dough up to make a snake.
Coil the snake, pressing gently in the center section of the snake to give the pizza a uniform width, put the snake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake it for 30-40 minutes, or until the pizza is evenly browned.
Frittelle di Riso
There are many types of Carnival (Mardi Gras) pastries in Italy. Traditional rice fritters, frittelle di riso, are also popular on March 19th, to celebrate San Giuseppe.
- 1 3/4 cup (350 g) rice — not parboiled
- 1 quart (1 liter) milk
- The zest of one lemon
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 eggs
- 1 jigger of rum or vinsanto
- 3/4 cup plus 1½ tablespoons (100 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Oil for frying
- Confectioner’s sugar
Simmer the rice in the milk until it’s quite soft and begins to give off its starch, then stir in the sugar, lemon zest and butter. Let the mixture cool.
Separate the eggs and whip the whites to soft peaks. Combine the yolks and the rum or wine and stir into the rice mixture, then fold in the egg whites, flour and baking powder.
Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375° F in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat. Drop the batter, a teaspoon at a time, into hot oil and fry the frittelle until they are golden brown.
Drain them on absorbent paper and, when they have cooled, dust them with confectioner’s sugar.
In Umbria these little fried pastries are called castagnole and, in some places, zeppole. In Milan they are tortelli. They are called castagnole because their shape resembles a chestnut. They are best eaten while still warm.
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon anise extract
- 1-1/2 cups cake or italian flour
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- Zest of ½ lemon
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 small eggs
- Pinch of salt
- 1 pkg yeast (lievito, in Italy)
- Oil for frying
- Powdered sugar to dust them
Mix flour, eggs, sugar, butter (cut into small cubes), vanilla, anise, salt, lemon zest and yeast. Combine the ingredients and transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until
soft and very smooth. Rest the dough for 20 minutes. Then form long and thick noodles of dough an inch thick, rolling the dough with your fingers.
Cut into pieces the size of a chestnut. Roll into balls.
Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a deep-frying pan and drop about six balls in at a time, frying over low heat and turning them as they brown. Use a spider or large slotted spoon to turn them until they are puffed up, golden and begin to float. Scoop them out and place them on layers of paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls and then sift powdered sugar over them.
Depending on where you are in Italy, you might ﬁnd these chiacchiere under the name of crostoli (or grostoli), sfrappole, galani, frappe or cenci with different regions substituting the white wine with marsala, acquavite or anisette.
- 4 1/2 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 heaping tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 glass white wine
- Vegetable oil for frying
- ¼ cup (50 g) powdered sugar
Place ﬂour in a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. Slowly work in the butter and the eggs followed by the white wine. Knead until the dough becomes soft and pliable. If it feels too sticky to the touch add a little more ﬂour. Dust a work surface with a little ﬂour. Roll dough out thin and cut it into triangles about 4 inches (10cm) long.
Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat and when hot, fry the chiacchiere in small batches. When they are golden brown all over, remove them from the oil and drain well on paper towels. Before serving, dredge with powdered sugar.
- Carnival and Mardi Gras activities (aphrogranger.wordpress.com)
- Celebrate Mardi Gras in The Washington D.C. Area (ezstorageblog.com)
- Celebrating Carnival (mjtrim.com)
- March 2014-Mardi Gras & More (caroleesplace.wordpress.com)
The Veneto is a large, beautiful region in northeastern Italy. It reaches northwards into the Dolomite Mountains, where you will find some of Italy’s most exclusive tourist and ski resorts, and westward to Lake Garda with its olive trees and its majestic views. Following along the course of the Brenta River, you will come to Palladio’s splendid villas. Picturesque towns seem to sprout up from the gently rolling hills. Vineyards feed off the water of the Adige river which passes through Verona on its way south to the Venetian lagoon.
For nearly 1400 years, the two or three miles of shallow water separating Venice from the mainland of Italy, had not only protected Venice from invaders but effectively isolated the Venetians from Italian politics.
Untouched by imperialist warfare, feudalism and territorial squabbles; Venetians fixed their attention on the East and the rich markets of Levantine and Constantinople to become a great mercantile empire called the Venetian Republic.
A city built out of fear of invasion, was soon to be known as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. While the Florentines were regarded as great thinkers, the Venetians would be regarded as great doer’s, since they alone conquered Veneto’s malaria-ridden swamps to build a great city, Venice, from nothing.
The diverse landscape of the Veneto is reflected in the region’s varied cuisine, influenced in large part by the region’s history, cultural open-mindedness and the presence of the sea. Grains, like corn and rice, are grown in the flatlands. Rice is a popular crop around Verona, where you will find the only Italian I.G.P rice variety, Vialone Nano Veronese. (D.O.P. means Protected Denomination of Origin. Products that are assigned the D.O.P denomination must be produced exclusively in very limited and strictly defined areas. These rice products may come from wider areas than D.O.P labeled products, but are certified I.G.P., that the typical characteristics of each product are within the approved standards for the whole area.)
These two grains, rice and corn, are the main ingredients of the region’s first courses, which include many types of risotto and polenta. Rice is a particularly versatile ingredient, and here you will find risotto made with everything from chicken giblets or eel, to fresh peas or radicchio from Treviso or asparagus from Bassano.
As you head north towards the mountains, polenta becomes the grain of choice. Polenta is often served with baccalà, a dried salted cod, calf’s liver and onions or braised beef or horsemeat.
Along the Adriatic coast, fish soups or brodetti, are traditionally served as first courses. Chioggia, a picturesque costal town located just south of Venice, is particularly famous for its fish soup and its massive fish market.
The mountainous areas of the Veneto are known for their excellent cheeses, the most famous of which is Asiago (DOP). The regional salumi (meats/salami) are also well known, including Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo (DOP) and Soppressa Vicentina. ( Soppressa, unlike salami, which is made from good cuts of pork, sopressa is made with just about everything: the hams, shoulders, sides, and so on. About the only thing that doesn’t go into it, is the skin.)
When it comes to dessert, the Veneto is home to one of Italy’s most well known sweet breads, the Pandoro. This rich bread is produced in and around Verona according to an ancient recipes. In Venice, be sure to look for Scalete, Pandolo, and Baicoli, all traditional sweets favored by Venetians.
For a seafood lover, there is perhaps no better place in the world to visit than Venice, Italy. The cuisine of this historic city relies heavily on the abundant bounty of the Venetian Lagoon, and the vast array of sea creatures which inhabit it. Every morning, the Rialto Market of Venice is overflowing with exotic catches of the day, from tiny snails called bovoleti to razor clams (cape longhe) and gigantic swordfish. Besides the lagoon, some fresh seafood is obtained from fish farms, or from the mountain streams of the Alto Adige. Wherever the source, the fish of this region is of amazing quality and variety.
While in Venice one can sample some of the seafood delicacies of the region found nowhere else in the world. Simply sticking to old Italian staples, such as cheese pizza or spaghetti with meatballs, would be an unfortunate choice, when presented with Venice’s unique dining options. The following list represents some of the most popular seafood dishes found in Venice, today. Preparation of these dishes is generally simple, relying on the quality of the ingredients and basic cooking techniques.
Pesce Fritto Misto (Fried Mixed Fish) Typically these mixed-fries will include seafood choices, such as calamari, scallops, small shrimp, some large prawns or a small-sized whole fish. This hearty meal is usually served with Polenta and lemon wedges and, perhaps, no more than a sprinkling of salt and parsley for seasoning.
Seppia al Nero (Squid in its Own Ink) Seppia, or cuttlefish, is a squid-like fish which sprays black ink when threatened. The meat of the seppia is sweet and tender when grilled, and is often served in Venetian restaurants over a bed of linguine or risotto, colored black by its ink. The ink gives the pasta or rice a rich, briny flavor.
Sarde in Saor (Marinated Sardines) This classic dish is one of the most popular Venetian first courses. Sardines are fried and placed in a sweet-and-sour marinade of vinegar, onions, raisins and pine nuts. If one’s only experience with sardines are those of the canned variety, then trying this specialty of the Venice region is a must.
Pizza con Pesce (Seafood Pizza) Seafood pizza in Venice is unlike pizza served anywhere else in the world. It is prepared with a topping of calamari and mixed shellfish such as shrimp, clams and mussels – often still in their shells. The shells open as the pizza bakes in the oven, releasing their juices onto the very thin crust with a tomato sauce base. Of course, there is absolutely no cheese served on such a pizza, as in true Italian cooking, cheese and seafood are considered highly incompatible.
Branzino Me Alati (Salt-Crusted Mediterranean Sea Bass) A classic Venetian way to prepare a whole branzino (sea bass) is to bake it in a thick salt crust. The salt forms a hard shell around the fish while it cooks, and the scales are left on the fish while cooking to prevent the salt from penetrating the flesh. The crust must then be carefully cracked and peeled away before filleting the fish. The resulting flavor is sweet and tender and usually served with risotto or pasta.
Folpetti Consi (Boiled Baby Octopus) Tiny young octopus are boiled with carrots and celery until tender, then seasoned lightly with oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Rombo, also known as Turbot, is a uniquely Mediterranean fish, not unlike the flounder. It is a flat fish that is quite popular in Venetian restaurants for its delicate flavor. It can be prepared in a number of different ways, but it is usually baked in a light tomato sauce.
Recipes For You To Make At Home
Venetian Rice and Peas – Risi e Bisi
Risi e bisi (rice and peas) is a classic Venetian dish. In the past it was prepared only on the feast days decreed by the Doge (Venice’s ruler), and though one can now prepare risi e bisi at any time, the dish really shines when freshly harvested baby peas are available. However, quality frozen peas can work very well, if fresh peas are not available. Venetians use a risotto rice called Vialone Nano, but Arborio rice will be fine if the Venetian rice is not available in your area.
- 7 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons butter (or Smart Balance Butter Blend), divided
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup minced onion
- 1/4 cup diced pancetta (about 2 oz.) or prosciutto
- 2 cups arborio rice or vialone nano rice (about 14 oz.)
- 4 cups shelled fresh or thawed frozen peas
- 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring vegetable stock to a simmer in a saucepan. Cover and keep warm. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft (do not brown), about 5 minutes. Add pancetta and cook until light brown, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring until coated, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup stock. Stir constantly until stock is almost absorbed, about 1 minute. Continue adding stock by the cupful in 5 more additions, stirring constantly and allowing stock to be absorbed between additions, until rice is almost tender. Add peas and remaining cup of stock and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is creamy and tender but still firm to the bite, about 22 minutes total.
Remove pan from heat. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, Parmesan, and parsley. Season rice and peas with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowls or plates, and serve.
Mediterranean Flounder or Sea Bass Fillets
- 6 flounder or sea bass fillets (about 6 ounces each)
- 1 tablespoon butter or Smart Balance
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 small jar capers, rinsed
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lemon slices for garnish
1. To cook fillets: Heat olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat.
2. In a separate dish, combine flour, salt and pepper. Flour the fillets and place in the sauté pan. Cook until golden brown on each side. Remove to a serving platter.
3. Keep the drippings in the sauté pan and add the parsley, capers and wine. Cook over a low flame for 3 minutes.
4. Spoon the sauce over the fillets and serve immediately.
Pork Stewed in Milk – Mas-cio al Late
Pork Stewed in Milk is one of the most popular second course entrees in the restaurants of the Venice, and, as a result, there are many variations. Some use white wine vinegar rather than white wine, others omit the garlic, and others use pork loin rather than pork rump.
- 2 1/2 pounds pork rump
- 3 pints whole milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or Smart Balance
- White wine vinegar
- 6 fresh sage leaves
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A little unbleached flour
Tie the meat with butcher’s twine to give it as regular a shape as possible, and put it in a pot that’s just large enough to hold it. Add good, but not too strong or acidic white wine vinegar to cover, cover the pot with a cloth, and set it in the refrigerator for 48 hours, turning the meat four times each day and adding more vinegar if need be to keep it covered.
When the time is up, remove the meat from the vinegar and dry it well. Flour it and brown it in the butter, turning it so as to brown all sides. In the meantime, heat the milk, and, while the meat is browning, tie together the sage leaves and rosemary. Add the herbs to the pot, and season the meat with salt and pepper; next, slowly pour the milk over it. Let it come back to a boil, reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover the pot, and cook for two hours, turning the meat every now and again, but being careful not to puncture it.
Half way through the cooking, add a large clove of peeled, crushed garlic. By the time the meat is done the milk will have condensed into a creamy sauce.
Slice the meat fairly thickly, arrange the slices on a heated serving dish, spoon the sauce over them.
Potato Gnocchi with Salsa Nera
If calamari and black squid ink are not your thing, I would use small shrimp or bay scallops for the calamari and 1 tablespoon basil pesto for the squid ink.
- 6 pounds potatoes
- 2 cups flour or Eagle Brand Ultra Grain flour
- 2 eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
For salsa nera:
- 4 ounces tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/4 pound calamari, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 tablespoon fresh, black squid ink
- Salt and pepper to taste
To make gnocchi: Scrub the potatoes and place, unpeeled, in a large pot of boiling water (lightly salted).
Cook for 45 minutes until tender but not overcooked. When cool, peel potatoes and mash. Add flour, eggs, salt and pepper.
Roll dough into long thin rods, and cut into small pieces about 1-inch in length to form the dumplings.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Drop gnocchi in and cook for approximately 1 minute until they float to the top. Scoop out with a mesh strainer.
To make Salsa Nera: In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Add parsley, tomato paste, white wine, black squid ink (or pesto), salt and pepper; cook for 20 minutes then add the calamari ( or shrimp or scallops) and cook for 3 minutes more.
To assemble: Place cooked gnocchi on a large serving platter. Add the salsa nera and gently toss to cover gnocchi with sauce.
Crespelle with Berries and Cognac
- 2 cups all purpose flour or Eagle Brand Ultra Grain flour
- 1/4 cup sugar or 2 tablespoons Truvia for Baking
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups low fat milk
- 2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
- 1 tablespoon butter or Smart Balance Butter Blend, melted
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Cooking spray to coat crêpe pan, as needed
For berry sauce:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or Smart Balance)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar or 1/4 cup Truvia for Baking
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 3 cups mixed berries
- 1/2 cup cognac
1. To make crepes: In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, butter and vanilla extract. Whisk batter well to remove any lumps, and then let the batter rest for at least 1 hour to ensure tender crêpes.
2. In a small, flat, round crêpe pan, heat the pan over medium heat and grease lightly with butter to prevent sticking.
3. With a ladle or small measuring cup, quickly pour a small amount of batter into the pan. Immediately tilt and swirl the pan to spread the batter in a thin, even layer that just covers the bottom of the pan. Cook for a few minutes, and then check the doneness of a crepe by carefully lifting one edge and looking underneath it for a golden color with specks of light brown. With a spatula, loosen the edge of the crêpe from the pan, flip it over, and cook on the other side until golden, about 30 seconds. Set aside crepes on individual dessert plates.
4. To make berry sauce: Melt butter in a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the ingredients. Add sugar and cook until it begins to caramelize. Add orange juice and reduce by half. Add berries and heat through.
5. To assemble: Once berries are hot, add the cognac, and ignite. Spoon over crepes and serve immediately.
- 8 Italian Cooking Courses for Garlic Lovers (theflyingfugu.com)
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- Off the eaten track in Venice (independent.co.uk)
- Remembering My Roots at the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy (jetsettimes.com)
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The arrival of rice in Italy was introduced by the Arabs during their invasion of Sicily, along with oranges, lemons, sugar cane and pistachio nuts. Some historians, also, claim that saffron made its appearance around the same time. Urban legend tells of a young apprentice, called Valerius, who was supposed to have invented the yellow risotto recipe that Milan is so famous for, now called, “Risotto alla Milanese”. He was put in charge of making the stained-glass window that was to adorn the Cathedral Duomo Di Milano. While he worked, many of the townspeople made fun of him, giving credit to the herb saffron for the beautiful colors showcased in his artwork. As a result, Valerius became angry and devised a plan of retaliation. During his master’s wedding, he added an excessive amount of saffron to the rice being served at the affair. He hoped his action would ruin the festivities, but instead the rice received great reviews and so the yellow risotto recipe of Milan became famous.
Italy is the leading producer of rice in Europe, with the majority of it being grown in the Po River Valley. Lombardy is home to the best rice growing area, Lomellina, while Piedmont and Veneto also have bountiful rice harvests. Rice thrives so well in these areas that first courses of risotto are more common than pasta. That is not to say that other regions of Italy do not eat rice, as there are wonderful rice recipes throughout Italy..
Italy grows mostly short, barrel shaped rice that is different than the long-grain rice that is usually boiled or steamed in other parts of the world. Among this type of rice are four categories based on grain size: comune, semifino, fino, and superfino. The superfino rice is the type most used for risotto, with Arborio being the most recognized outside of Italy. However, Venetian cooks prefer the Carnaroli variety, which was invented in the 1950’s. Baldo is another variety well-known for making excellent risotto.
Risotto is made with great care, braising the rice and allowing it to absorb the cooking liquid, usually broth. The special rice used in the preparation lends its starches to the cooking liquid, giving the risotto a rich consistency that in some ways, resembles a heavy cream sauce. The actual braising of the rice is a standard procedure starting with the rice being toasted in a soffrito (chopped vegetables such as onion, garlic, carrots and celery), before broth is ladled in slowly. What makes each risotto unique is the local ingredients that give the dish its character.
In Piedmont it is not unusual to find risotto with truffles or made with red Barolo wine. In Venice, seafood risotto is a mainstay and risotto with sauteed eels is a Christmas tradition. Risotto is completely versatile, and goes just as well with cuttlefish ink (Nero di Sepia) as with Prosciutto di San Danielle or with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano (added just before serving – Risotto Mantecato) or with wildfowl like quail (Risotto con la Quaglie).
Italian rice is not just limited to risotto. One of the more famous of the non-risotto rice dishes is Minestrone alla Milanese, a hearty vegetable soup, which makes use of Lombardy’s abundant rice. In Venice, Peas and Rice (Risi e Bisi) is a popular dish that is like a soup made with rice and peas, but thick enough to eat with a fork. Riso al Salto is a great way to use up leftover risotto – pressed into patties and fried in butter. Another delicious way to eat leftovers is to add the rice to eggs for an Omelette di Riso. Arancini (little oranges) are fried rice balls with a filling, usually of cheese, and they are a popular snack found in Italian cafes and bars. Rice stuffed tomatoes are a traditional antipasti around Naples. Rice is also useful in desserts, such as Sicily’s Dolce di Castagne e Riso – a rice pudding flavored with chestnuts.
It is a common belief that risotto must be stirred constantly while you’re making it. Outrage rippled through the masterclass on rice when Gabriele Ferron, a well known chef from Verona, first presented his ‘no-stir’ method of cooking risotto many years ago. How could anyone call a dish a risotto, if you haven’t slaved over the pot, stirring constantly as you add stock? Never mind the fact that his “revolutionary” method freed the cook from the stove and produced an excellent rendition of this famous dish.
Wonder if all that work is really necessary!
The editors of bon Appetit sampled recipes for stirred risotto and “quick n’ easy” no-stir risotto and compared the results. The verdict? It depends on what you like!
Risotto made in the traditional way, adding the broth one cup at a time and waiting for it to be absorbed so that the starch from the rice dissolves into the sauce, turns it silky and creamy.
No-stir recipes where all the broth is added at once do not wind up with the same sauce-like consistency. The editors of Bon Appetit say they turn out more like pilaf. It’s still full of flavor and definitely a fine method to use if you don’t want to be tied to the stove, but the results aren’t nearly the same.
Both methods are definitely edible and have their own merits, so it comes down to what you have time for and what you like.
Chef Simon Humble, who won a silver medal in an international rice competition in Italy, employs the ‘no stir” method at his Melbourne restaurant, Tutto Bene.
His basic principles of the ‘no stir’ method are summarised as follows:
- use minimal oil,
- never allow the onion to brown as bitterness will pervade the rice,
- “toast” (toss in oil and heat) the rice over moderate heat
- ensure all liquid used is hot
- DO NOT STIR the risotto again after an initial stir when adding the liquid – if you start stirring at the beginning, then you must stir right through to the end. After adding the liquid, the dish is cooked over low heat.
The Almost No Stir Method For Risotto
Yield: Serves 6
- 5 1/2 cups chicken broth, low sodium
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large shallots, peeled & finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
- Salt & Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Butter
In a heavy-bottomed Dutch Oven pan with a lid, heat the oil and cook the shallots and garlic over medium heat until it is translucent.
Add the wine, and cook over medium heat until the wine is almost absorbed.
Add 1/2 cup of broth and stir constantly for 3 minutes until the rice is creamy, add the remaining ½ cup of broth if the risotto isn’t loose enough.
Add the finishing ingredients and mix well.
Serve immediately offering additional grated cheese at the table.
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in skillet. Sear the asparagus just until beginning to brown, about three minutes.
1 butternut squash (medium, about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups). Place the squash on a baking pan and toss it with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
2 cups shrimp and/or scallops cut in half and sauteed in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 minced garlic clove.
2 cups mushrooms such as shiitake, chanterelle, or oyster mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and cut into half inch pieces and sauteed in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
8 ounces sweet pork, turkey or chicken Italian sausage, browned.
10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach cooked according to package instructions and drained well. Cool spinach completely and squeeze dry.
10 oz pkg frozen peas, defrosted
2 cups chopped leftover roasted or grilled chicken
2 cups broccoli florets, cooked
1 medium zucchini diced and sauteed in 1 tablespoon olive oil for 2-3 minutes
When You Have Leftover Risotto, Make Risotto Cakes
Makes 6-8 cakes
- 2 cups cold leftover risotto
- ¼ cup egg substitute
- ½ cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup Progresso Italian Style Panko breadcrumbs, divided
- Basil Pesto, see post for recipe, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/21/two-sauces-for-everyday-meals/
Heat oven to 400 degrees F and spray a baking pan with olive oil cooking spray.
Combine the egg substitute, the risotto and 1/2 cup panko crumbs and mix well.
Pour the remaining breadcrumbs onto a shallow dish.
Form the risotto mixture into 6 to 8 patties (depending on how large you want to make them) and coat lightly with the remaining panko crumbs.
Place the risotto cakes on the prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, turning the cakes over half way through the baking time.
Serve each with a tablespoon of pesto.
- Easy risotto and choosing the right rice (telegraph.co.uk)
- Recipe: Spring Asparagus Risotto (fox8.com)
- Mushroom Risotto. (gwenacaster.wordpress.com)
- Five Star Pot Roast With Rich Risotto (tampa.cbslocal.com)
- Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto (underthebluegumtree.com)