Thanks to Italian culture (the nerve!) and to countless cookbooks worldwide, Arborio rice is forever associated with the creamy Italian rice dish called risotto. It’s a bit of a public relations problem, really. I suppose the association is not uncalled for, given that Arborio rice IS risotto’s main ingredient. It could certainly be worse, I’ll grant you, as a good risotto is fairly heavenly.
This association nevertheless needs to be rather loose, to allow these powerful little plump kernels to shine in their own right. Otherwise, it’s a little like identifying Sir Paul McCartney merely as a member of the Beatles and disregarding his considerable accomplishments as a solo artist, composer of classical and electronic music, and as the creative force behind the popular 70s band Wings. It would be especially unfair when you consider that of the nine albums released by the Wings, all made the top 10 either in the UK, in the US, or both.
Similarly, Arborio rice is much more versatile than the role it plays in velvety risottos. It adds its trademark pleasant chewiness to dishes as varied as stuffed rice balls, puddings, tarts, soufflés, soups, sweet cakes and savory tortes. Lundberg Family Farms, one of the largest organic rice producers in the country, even touted an Apple Cider Risotto Cheesecake in the recipe suggestion section of its website, and it looked pretty darn appetizing. These little guys can wear a lot of hats.
It’s a perfect little imperfect grain of rice.
Huh? No…I’m not referring to the pop hit “All of Me” by John Legend, who croons about all of his girlfriend’s ‘perfect imperfections.’ But I am alluding to Arborio rice’s own structural glitch. Called “chalk,” this genetic flaw causes the starch structures within the grain’s core to deform as it matures. While it could technically be considered a defect, this genetic flaw is what gives Arborio rice its distinct firm, al dente texture. It’s what makes it so much harder for us to overcook it. You gotta love those little guys…they’ve thought of everything.
Just be prepared to have plenty of broth, or milk when making a dessert, on hand when cooking them. They are a lot thirstier than their medium- and long-grain cousins. Unlike other rices, which absorb around 2 cups of water for every cup of rice as they cook, Arborio rice can gulp closer to 4 cups of broth per cup. Then again, it is a denser grain. As such, it requires extra time at the stove, and extra liquid to go with it. For your patience, Arborio rice rewards with a hearty, satisfying chew.
It’s a good deal.
I recently read a quote from an unknown author that said: “One type of rice nourishes one hundred types of people.” It’s very true and I like it, though I would want to add “…through one hundred types of dishes.” Now I’m no public relations expert, but I’m thinking that would be a great slogan for our little friends.
making rice torte with fontina & mushrooms
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch Springform cake pan with parchment paper before closing in the sides around it. Then, butter it generously.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a handful of Kosher salt. Add 2 1/2 cups of Arborio rice and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes or so. Start tasting it for firmness. It will probably need to cook for another few minutes. Just please do not allow it to overcook. You want those kernels to be nice and firm.
Drain and immediately cool by running cold water over it to stop it from cooking.
Drain it once more, very well, and place it in a large bowl. Add 4 lightly beaten eggs, 1 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, a good dash or two of freshly-grated nutmeg, and sea or Kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper to taste. Mix all the ingredients very well.
In a 12-inch skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add 1 grated yellow onion (CLICK HERE FOR A SUPER FAST AND EASY WAY TO GRATE ONIONS!) and 16 oz. of sliced cremini mushrooms.
Cook for 8 minutes or so, until the mushrooms begin releasing their liquid. Continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated and then add 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, sea or Kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper to taste. Mix well. Cook for another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
Spoon half the rice mixture into the prepared springform cake pan.
It should look like this.
Cover it first with the cooked mushrooms, making sure to leave a ½ -inch border along the sides. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top of the mushrooms.
Arrange 4-4.5 oz. of thinly-sliced Fontina (or Gruyere) cheese on top.
Cover everything with the remaining cooked rice mixture.
Place the pan in the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F. Bake for 50 minutes or so, or until the top becomes a beautiful golden color and the crust nice and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on top of a cookie rack for 15 minutes before removing the sides of the springform pan. Using the sides of the parchment paper, carefully slide the cake onto a cutting board and cut into wedges. Makes 6-8 servings.