Monday, January 27, 2020

Piedmont rices

Up here in Piedmont, rice is definitely one of our local passions together with wine, chocolate and coffee. Our passions have always grown organically and exponentially, till reaching the European royal courts, the most remote international markets, and have conquered the most refined tables of the world.

risotto alla milanese with Italian saffron, you can see the short gran rice

Rice variants cultivated in Piedmont

If you cook and like us, love rice, you must certainly be familiar with our Piedmont native white rices: 
  • our nationally renowned Arborio aka 'riso Italiano di qualitΓ ' or Italian highest quality rice, perfect for risottos and soups
  • Carnaroli THE short grain Italian rice you can easily find world wide
  • Sant'Andrea Piemonte from the Vercelli area, THE European rice capital since Italy, and particularly Piedmont is the top European producer of rice;
  • Balilla or Originario because it is the oldest native rice variety cultivated in our region and most Italian traditional rice dishes used to be prepared with this rice while now, this is mostly used for desserts, puddings, and sweet preparations.
  • Roma reminding us of the Fascist cultivations
  • Baldo an Arborio hybrid together with many other hybrid rices

Italian short grain white rice: Arborio

plus the black and red rices! Yes, in Piedmont we might not have wild rice as you know it in your country, but we do have other colorful variants.

Legend has it that rice came to Northern Italy in the 13th century from China thanks to the Marco Polo's explorations. It quickly adapted to our local climate in the humid Po Valley, here in Piedmont.
However it's been only since the 16th century that it's been an extensive cultivation and the staple of the local diet.

Mole Antonelliana represents Turin and by extension all of Piedmont

White, brown, black, red rice nutritional differences

White rice is a carbohydrate rich in starch and as such it is similar to a slow absorption fiber. White rice nutrient value depends on the cooking methods. In Italy we tend to boil rice like pasta and all the nutrients fly away...
As risotto simmers in fatty broth, it is usually cooked without a lid and with other ingredients that ultimately provide their nutrients to your dish.
Rice bran coating brown and black rice is packed with lots of nutrients and this is where both brown and black rice become super foods rich in manganese (antioxidant), selenium, thiamin (vitamin B1, essential for our metabolism, heart, muscles and nervous system), niacin (vitamin B3), magnesium and copper. Unfortunately, rice bran also contains antinutrients (like iron and zinc) that can be diminished by soaking and fermenting the rice before cooking, and heavy metals if cultivated in polluted areas*.
Wild Red rice is particularly rich in antioxidants that help fighting free radicals, fibers and minerals.

black rice from Piedmont

Black rice, as well as brown rice have also a low-glycemic indenx and together with all their nutrients and very low calories make it nutritionally better than refined white rice.
Wild red and black rice take longer to cook, have a sweet or nutty flavor, the grains don't stick together because the bran keeps them crunchy and separated making them ideal for salads and soups. In short, they are so healthy and good to deserve a post on their own.

Whatever type of rice you love, however you enjoy your rice dishes, if creamy risottos or simple steamed rice bowls instead of bread, here in Piedmont we have a saying:

il riso nasce nell'acqua
e muore nel vino

or rice is born in water and it dies in wine!

the flooded rice paddies in the Vercelli area

Traditionally, chefs have always used white wine to start their risottos, nowadays though you can venture in red wine risottos too and even beer and gin risottos.
However, rice like wine (chocolate, coffee and tea) have a terroir - they keep the identity of their native soil, and when your menu matches all the original terroirs, all the flavors are enhanced!

So ideally, when in Turin, tasting and buying different local rice grains is a unique culinary experience and interestingly we actually have at least two restaurants specializing in rice and risottos.
Plus being rice gluten-free and easy to digest it does make everyone at the table happy 😊 and to the non-Italians it does give a break from all the pasta.
And actually though 😏 in Italy you'll easily find rice pasta too just in case, you like the shape but need a different flavor or nutrients 😁

Unesco World Heritage Site: the Roero wine district

As for the wines, the beers and most of the ingredients, always choose what's made in the area.
Vercelli and Novara are the main rice producing areas, but you can find rice varieties from the Alessandria and Biella area too. Given the large diversity within Piedmont in terms of humidity, altitude, sun exposure and soil composition, as long as you choose a native Piedmont vine, you are guaranteed our local unique terroir.
We must also add, that as the distances are limited, the vineyards are relatively close by the rice paddies and usually neighboring hazelnut groves and surrounded by chocolate makers 😜

From the Alps to our valleys, wherever you'll choose to visit, with us in Piedmont, you'll find natural oases with their unique original wildlife and plants.

In Piedmont, our territory and its fruits are our passions that make our vidaroyal, come join us soon!

E-mail Lucia:

*This is one of the many reasons why Italian consumers always want to know the origin of their foods and make their best to buy locally where the production techniques are regulated by the Italian goverment.

1 comment:

  1. Buongiorno,

    We’re planning a trip to Turin in October COVID willing. 🀞 Wondering you could recommend a rice producer that we could visit? We would be coming from Turin and then heading to Canale. So a producer in the southwest area of the rice fields would be preferred.

    Ian Catton