In Northern Italy, rice is also nice

January 01, 1995|By Dotty Griffith | Dotty Griffith,Universal Press Syndicate

Think pasta, and Italy comes to mind.

Think rice. Think corn. Do China or Mexico come to mind?

Think again -- of Italy.

Risotto made from short-grain arborio rice and polenta from coarsely ground cornmeal are as Italian as spaghetti and meatballs.

Here's more sage advice: Forget basil and oregano.

In the north, where risotto and polenta reign, fresh sage is the favored herb. It's found in the aforementioned second-course dishes and in roasted meats, fowl and fish.

Milder than dried, fresh sage's delicate but smoky flavor lends itself to the rich butter, cream and olive oil tones that distinguish much of the food in this region.

A recent trip provided a lesson in the regional specialties of Northern Italy, where pasta similar to dumplings is made from potatoes and called gnocchi. Where cheese, butter and cream, not tomatoes, form many of the sauces. Where trout from mountain lakes and streams is sauteed, grilled or smoked.

In my study of Lombardy -- a landlocked area in Northern Italy that extends from Switzerland and the Alps to the lakes and plains of the Po River -- I learned that this is a rich growing area for wine grapes, apple, pear and pomegranate orchards, rice, corn and wheat.

Veal, sausages, wild game and trout make up many typical menu listings, reflecting the mountains, streams and lakes of the region.

So, too, do the risottos, polentas and gnocchi. Below are recipes typical of the region.

Gnocchi With Tomato

Green Beans and Mushrooms

Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 pounds packaged or homemade gnocchi (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves fresh garlic, mashed

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms, preferably brown or porcini

2 cups frozen cut green beans, rinsed with hot water to thaw, drained

1 (16-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes, drained well and finely chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup heavy cream

salt and pepper to taste

sprinkling of grated nutmeg to taste

Begin heating a large pot of water for gnocchi.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in medium saucepan. Add onion and cook until onion is wilted and begins to soften. Add garlic, mushrooms and green beans.

Cook until mushrooms are soft and green beans wrinkle, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and cook until liquid disappears. Add tomato paste and cream; cook over low heat until cream thickens enough to coat pasta.

Thicken, if desired, by combining 1 to 2 teaspoons soft butter and 1 to 2 teaspoons flour to make a paste. Whisk paste into sauce and cook gently to thicken. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg; set aside.

Cook gnocchi according to package directions or recipe below. (Gnocchi should be shaped and ready to cook before sauce is started.) When gnocchi are cooked, place in warm serving bowl and pour sauce over. Gently reheat sauce, if necessary. Do not allow to boil.

Per serving: calories, 448; fat, 20 grams; cholesterol, 127 milligrams; sodium, 810 milligrams; percent calories from fat, 39 percent.

Homemade Gnocchi

Makes 6 servings

2 1/4 pounds mealy (Idaho or baking) potatoes

1 3/4 cups flour (divided use)

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

In a large saucepan, cook potatoes in their skins in boiling water until very tender. Drain, peel and mash.

In a bowl, combine the mashed potatoes with half the flour and the egg yolks. Add salt and season to taste. Knead mixture until a firm, smooth dough is formed.

Divide the dough into pieces. Coat hands well with flour and roll each piece into a narrow sausage shape on a surface sprinkled with most of the remaining flour. Cut these into sections about 1 1/4 inches long. Roll each section on the prongs of a fork while pressing lightly with your thumb to form a shape similar to seashell pasta.

Drop the shaped dumplings onto a well-floured board. At this point, they can be kept for a couple of hours at room temperature.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the dumplings a few at a time and remove them with a slotted spoon as they rise to the surface. Place in a warm serving bowl. Pour tomato sauce over and serve at once.

Per serving: calories, 245; fat, 2 grams; cholesterol, 71 milligrams; sodium, 363 milligrams; percent calories from fat, 8 percent.

Risotto

Makes 6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups arborio (Italian short-grain) rice

1/4 cup dry white wine

5 cups simmering chicken broth

1 tablespoon butter

6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until onions are soft, but not brown.

Add rice and stir to coat with oil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add wine and enough boiling stock to cover the rice. Simmer, stirring, adding remaining stock in batches to keep the rice covered with a thin veil of liquid.

When rice is al dente (tender enough to eat, but not soft) and risotto appears creamy (about 15 minutes), remove the pan from the heat and stir in butter and Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately in heated bowls or mounded on heated plates.

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