Rice: some new ideas for an ancient grain


Book covers both standard dishes and unexpected ones

March 19, 2003|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

As if to say that everything old is new again, here comes Marie Simmons writing about something ancient: rice. As dates are sketchy, suffice to say that rice was probably first cultivated in South Asia several thousand years ago, making it even older than the tomato aspic at the Woman's Industrial Exchange.

So, what's new?

Ingredient combinations, perhaps, as in Corn, Tomato and Rice Pudding With Chipotle Chile-Cheddar Custard or Fried Red Rice With Shiitakes and Bok Choy. In The Amazing World of Rice (William Morrow, 2003, $19.95), the reader will benefit from the years Simmons spent researching a previous book, Rice, the Amazing Grain, plus her experience writing 11 other cookbooks and a column for Bon Appetit magazine.

The writer has a sense of adventure, giving this 274-page paperback a blend of rice standards -- brown rice and mushroom pilaf, basic risotto -- and less likely dishes. The 150 recipes are weighted toward the latter, challenging the notion of rice as nondescript side dish. Consider, say, Butternut Squash Rice Pancakes With Gruyere or Spicy Fried Rice With Broccoli Rape and Golden Garlic Threads.

The book would have you shift rice from the side to the center of the meal, introducing it as a foundation for soups, salads and main courses. Simmons gives primers on pilaf, paella and pudding; she covers the rudiments of risotto, then moves on to higher ambitions -- such things as Artichoke, Tomato, Dill and Lemon Pilaf, Istanbul-Style.

There's a glossary of rice terms -- from amasake, a thick rice beverage, to wild rice -- tips on storage and buying and a 10-page index. Instructions are clear and easy to follow.

The introduction says rice is "rich in legend and folklore," but the text never explores this dimension of the subject. The emphasis here is on recipes and information -- no pictures to speak of (we know what rice looks like, no?), no expansive prose, no history lessons. Just rice and more rice -- as simple and complicated as that can be.

Orzo and Rice Pilaf With Pignoli

Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

3/4 cup uncooked basmati rice

1/2 cup orzo

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons pignoli (pine nuts)

freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional

Melt the butter in a large, wide saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion; cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic; cook for 1 minute.

Add the rice and orzo; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water and the salt; heat to boil. Stir, cover and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Let stand off the heat, covered, for 10 minutes before serving.

Meanwhile, toast the pignoli in a small dry skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 2 minutes.

Add the pignoli to the cooked pilaf and toss to blend. Serve sprinkled with grated cheese, if desired.

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