Gnocchi, polenta and rice

Gnocchi, polenta and rice

By
Antonio Carluccio
Contains
12 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849491662
Photographer
Alastair Hendy

Pasta and bread are the primary carbohydrate foods in Italian cuisine, but not far behind come gnocchi, polenta and rice. The first are dumplings usually made from potato, the second are made from a variety of grains and pulses, while the third is a grain that can be used to create one of the most unique and famous of all Italian dishes, risotto.

All can be presented and flavoured in different ways, and help introduce a little welcome variety into the typical Italian diet.

Polenta

Polenta is the name for a maize or corn flour, and for the dishes made from it. Maize reached Europe via Spain, imported from the Americas following the great discoveries of the sixteenth century. Easy to cultivate, and cropping well, it was immediately adopted by the Italians, especially in the north where the growing conditions were optimal.

After a long period out of fashion – it was seen as a food of poverty for many decades – polenta has made a comeback in home cooking as well as in good restaurants, where it is offered with all sorts of sauces. It used to be quite a job cooking polenta because it takes about 40 minutes of stirring. Now however, a pre-cooked ‘quick’ polenta has been developed, which takes only 5 minutes to cook. Although in my opinion this is not as tasty as the original, it is quite acceptable.

Polenta has various functions, mostly as an accompaniment to a sauce or stew, which could be of chicken, rabbit or sausages, or wild mushrooms (or a mixture). It can be eaten fresh, with the addition of grated Parmesan and butter, which changes the texture, making it ideal to accompany roasts instead of mashed potato. It can also be cooked fresh and then left to solidify, after which it can be cut in slices and fried or grilled to make the perfect accompaniment for any meat or vegetable.

Rice

Rice has only been established in Italy for 400 or 500 years. Introduced by the Arabs, it quickly became a welcome alternative to the wheat grain used for bread and pasta. Funnily enough, its cultivation started in the south of the country, where water was never going to be found in the quantities needed for the grain to grow happily. Since then production has moved to the northern regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto, where a supply of abundant water from the Alps has created the perfect conditions for growing the grain.

The Italians developed, from the original ‘Japonica’, the type of rice they wanted for risottos: a grain that was able to absorb enough water while cooking without falling apart, yet still remaining to the tooth (al dente). Various kinds of rice are produced in the Po Valley, from Vercelli in Piedmont to Venice in Veneto. The best rice for risotto are arborio, vialone nano, Roma and carnaroli. Anything else will not do!

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