Cooking Rice with an Italian Accent!

BOOK: Cooking Rice with an Italian Accent!


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Getting Ready

Common Ingredients and Terms in Italian Cooking




Insalate di Riso







To my Sicilian-Calabrian heritage

To those people in my life who share my love of God, my Church, and the meals that I cook

To my beloved Italy—my earthly Paradise


1. M


Who loves me unconditionally. In Him I live, and breathe, and have my being.


2. A


A young man graced with wisdom far beyond his years. He acted as my wine consultant and suggested the appropriate wines to accompany each recipe.


3. R


My editor, who has taught me how to perfect my writing skills.


4. J


My publicists, who work very hard to make each of my books a success.

Foreword by Regis Philbin

There is nothing like an Italian who loves to cook, and here is an Italian priest who loves his God, his Church, his family, and the meals he cooks. No kidding, he's the real deal, and incidentally, he loves to eat, too. Maybe it's the blessing he gives the food, maybe it's the collection of great recipes he has saved through the years, or maybe it's because he really loves to cook, but I've been to his table and I can tell you it's an extraordinary dining experience.

But then Father Joe is the kind of guy you love to be with anyway. Such good conversation. Stories you can't make up. Always with a smile. Always up. Always uplifting. I love him.

He has written many cookbooks. This one includes many rice dishes. Who knew rice had such versatility? For me over the years it was white rice or brown rice in Chinese restaurants and I drove the waiter crazy while making up my mind. Father Joe has a million little tips to offer. For example, cauliflower was never my favorite. I never ordered it. Never wanted it. It's lower than Brussels sprouts on my vegetable taste list, but Father Joe gives us a secret about cauliflower. He agrees it's bland, but if you combine it with the right ingredients, it has the ability to absorb other flavors. He has a rice recipe that actually turns the lowly cauliflower into a tempting, tantalizing, taste-pleasing vegetable. Now, if he can do that to a cauliflower, imagine what else he has for you. It's another great book from a great man, a great priest, and a great cook: Father Joe Orsini.

Expert Advice

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Carb?

You can't read a newspaper or magazine today that does not advocate low carbohydrates or no carbohydrates in the American diet.

As a physician specializing in internal medicine for twenty-five years, I know that the present low carbohydrate fad advocated by some dieticians and some physicians very often is full of confusion and disagreements. This fact compels me to comment about rice and pasta.

In the sports community pasta and rice have been called the foods of champions. These complex carbohydrates are burned off (metabolized) by the body during sports events. Complex carbohydrates are easier to digest than other food sources such as fats and proteins. The body can concentrate more on breaking records rather than converting proteins and fats to energy. Complex carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, whole-grain products, and certain vegetables and fruits lower the glucose response and its effects on insulin. These products keep the energy supply (glucose) moving into the cells at a more constant level with less fluctuation, resulting in less hunger.

Gram for gram pasta and rice are lower in calories than proteins and fats. They also contain B vitamins, riboflavin, niacin, and iron and other nutrients. I personally prepare pasta or rice with simple sauces containing olive oil, garlic, and fresh or canned tomatoes. Depending on the amount ingested it is the sauces heavy with cream, butter, high fat cheese and pork fat that are the culprits in adding additional calories to a dish.

When I desire to lose a few pounds my main meal consists of a 5-ounce serving of pasta or rice with tomato or vegetable sauce. This, of course, must be accompanied by other calorie-restricted meals with low fat content. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat proteins such as fish, chicken, and beans all add to a balanced diet. Of course, if your meal consists of a half loaf of Italian bread, butter, 16 ounces of soda, ½ pound of pasta, or rice with cream sauce, sausage, and chocolate mousse cake, you will find it very difficult to lose or maintain your weight.

The Roman orator Cicero's dictum, “Moderation in all things,” also applies to a healthy diet and happier living.

—Don Simone, M.D.

Wine, Companion to Italian Cooking

In the Italian culture, wine is an essential part of a meal, and, needless to say … life. Throughout my travels in the wine regions of the world, I have discovered that Italy grows more grape varieties than any other country. I have suggested two wines per each risotto/rice dish. I have been a friend of Father Joe and a big fan of his recipes, and we have shared many glasses of wine with his fabulous dishes. I hope you will experience the same feelings and passion we feel when you sit at the table with friends and family.


Alfredo Saurini

Wine Specialist


In my other cookbooks, I always included rice dishes cooked in the Italian manner. This book is comprised totally of recipes that have rice as a fundamental ingredient.

The majority of these dishes have their origin in Northern Italy because most rice grown in Italy comes from the valley of its major river, the Po. Rice is the pasta of Northern Italy. I will be presenting a number of dishes using rice, everything from soups, salads, main courses, and even a few desserts. I am sure you will be as delighted as I was to discover these many pearls of Italian cuisine that are unknown, at least outside of Italy.

Rice was first introduced to European gastronomy by the Sicilians. In the ninth century, the Arabs brought rice farming to Sicily. Unfortunately, the methods of cultivation in those times were rudimentary and the terrain produced sparse crops. Hence the price was high and rice was served only on the tables of the wealthy. In the centuries following, the situation became progressively worse and the planting of rice in Sicily was completely abandoned.

However, as soon as a tourist arrives in Sicily today, his first encounter with the cuisine will be with rice croquettes called
They are sold everywhere, in fry stands on the beach, in cafés, and in bars serving hot food (
tavloa calda
). This is easy to explain. The Sicilians' love of this particular dish remained, even though rice was not readily available.

Be that as it may, this southern Italian concedes that Northern Italy has raised cooking rice to an art.

When I was on
Live! with Regis and Kathy Lee
in 1992, I cooked a risotto Calabrese. I had a tough time explaining to Regis what a risotto was. We wound up shouting at each other, but in jest. To finally clear up any misunderstanding, Regis, here is how a risotto is made: You begin by usually sautéing onions in butter and olive oil. Next, add the rice and sauté that, too. Then you add boiling hot broth, cup by cup, until the rice absorbs all the liquid. This takes about eighteen minutes of continual stirring with a wooden spoon. Okay. Let's go back to the beginning.

In order to better understand Italian cooking, we have to know some basic facts about Italy. Italy is a peninsula shaped like a boot. It is a relatively small country; two-thirds the size of the state of California. Including Sicily and Sardinia, it has only 116,216 square miles.

Being a peninsula means that Italy is surrounded by seas: the Tyrrehenian on the west, the Ionian on the south, and the Adriatic on the east. The rocky Tyrrehenian coast has two principal ports: Genoa and Naples. The Adriatic coast is rich with gorgeous beaches; the Ionian coast is essentially a desert.

At its north, the Alps separate Italy from the rest of Europe. At the feet of the Alps begins the Po valley, a large, flat plateau of very fertile soil. South of this valley there is another chain of mountains, the Appenines, which cross down the middle of the peninsula from north to south. With the exception of the Po valley, Italy is primarily a mountainous country. It is about 750 miles long. The width varies from 395 miles in the Po valley to 25 miles in Calabria.

In the Padana valley we find the principal river of Italy: the Po, which flows from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Other important rivers are the Adige, also in the Padana valley, the Arno, which passes through Florence and Pisa; and the Tiber, which flows through Rome. At the foot of the Alps there are the famous beautiful lakes of Como, Maggiore, and Garda.

Italy has two large islands, Sicily and Sardinia, and many small islands, among which are Capri, Ischia, and Elba, all very beautiful and important as centers of tourism. Italy also has three volcanoes: Vesuvius in the gulf of Naples, Etna in Sicily, and Stromboli on the island of the same name.

Italy is situated in a temperate zone, and the Alps protect it from the northern winds, while the surrounding seas make the winters mild. But the climate varies a great deal between the north and south, and even from region to region. In general, winters are cold in the Po valley and in northern and central Italy: but along the Riviera to the east and west of Genoa, winters are mild. Winters are very mild along the Neapolitan and Calabrian coasts and in Sicily. Summers are hot and dry, but very pleasing along the coasts and in the Alps and Appenines.

Italy's north, central, and south are administratively divided into twenty regions, and the regions divided into provinces. Northern Italy comprises the regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, and Veneto. These are agricultural and industrial regions and are very prosperous. Milan and Turin, the two great industrial centers, are in this zone. The regions of Central Italy are: Tuscany, Umbria, The Marches, Lazio, Abruzzi, and Molise. These are essentially agricultural. The South and its regions are also agricultural. Campania is very fertile, and Puglia is also very agriculturally developed. But in the regions of Basilicata and Calabria the level of agriculture is very low because the soil is depleted. Sicily and Sardinia also belong to the South and are also agricultural, because the soil is rich in volcanic minerals.

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