IT WAS A DREAM come true for Chef John Coletta. Last year, the Italian rice recipes Coletta gathered and developed over a lifetime of travels, became a beautiful cookbook that won first place in the Italian category and second place in the rice category at the 2019 Gourmand International Cookbook competition. Published by Rizzoli, Risotto & Beyond includes 100 of Coletta’s rice recipes, which were tested and then written up, with chapters on rice varieties, history and culture, by Monica Kass Rogers. The book takes readers and home cooks on a ricey journey all over Italy.
Coletta, founding chef and partner of Chicago’s Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, is a big believer in the beauty of Italian rice. “From antipasti, to soups, salads, risotto, one-dish meals and desserts, the possibilities for Italian rice are nearly endless,” says Coletta.
“It was a fantastic adventure to research, write about and test all of John’s authentic recipes for Italian rice,” says Kass Rogers, an Evanston-based writer, food stylist, and photographer and frequent contributor to Forest & Bluff. “John is world-renowned for his cooking, and Nancy Ross Ryan—who started the project with John— was my first food writing mentor. When she passed away, carrying John’s dream project through to fruition was a must.”
Traveling to the Po River Valley where rice has been cultivated in Italy for half a millennium, Kass Rogers photographed the rice fields and workers quarters for the book, interviewing families, farmers, rice experts, and chefs who hold rice dear there, for the book’s essays.
“Italy is the largest producer of rice in Europe, but almost nobody here knows that,” she says. “The history of Italian rice is fascinating, and is included in the book, along with text on the many varieties and how best to use them. There is so much more you can do with Italian rice than make risotto! With this book, John set about to change that.”
Every one of the recipes in the book includes Coletta’s personal stories and anecdotes. There are tales of the rice snacks and soups Coletta’s Italian mother made when he was growing up in Queens, accounts of stews he learned to make from women who worked the rice fields, and memories of gourmet preparations he perfected working with chefs around the country.
“My personal favorite John story is his memory of Castelluccio lentils, which are featured in a rice soup recipe and a stuffed-pepper recipe in the book” says Kass Rogers. “Just as southerners here eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck, in Italy, people eat lentils. John remembers that during the first weeks of January, his mom would make so many lentils, he’d finally complain, “Mom, how much good luck do we need?”
To help home cooks navigate the recipes with success, Risotto and Beyond includes a section on recommended Italian pantry ingredients, as well as recipe guidelines and equipment. Each chapter opens with a pertinent essay, and, enhancing enjoyment, each recipe comes with a suggested wine pairing, from sommelier Tory O’Haire.
“Everyone asks me what my favorite recipe in the book, and it’s so hard to choose! I do love the No- Bake Sweet Rice “Souffle” with Raspberry Sauce, and the Rice Crespelle—blintz-like little lovelies, are a fantastic, gluten-free alternative to crepes,” says Kass Rogers. “But as we return to cooler weather, I’ve been making the risotto-filled braciole, which are delicious!”
To purchase a copy of Risotto and Beyond, please visit rizzoliusa.com
BRACIOLE, LITTLE BUNDLES of poultry, beef, or pork stuffed with fillings, are a specialty in Southern Italy. There, for centuries, inexpensive cuts of meat from the shoulder and leg have been pounded flat, salted and peppered, filled, and braised in tomato sauce. Including a special risotto filling as I have here, elevates these rolls to main-dish status. They take some time and tender-loving-care to prepare, but the result is well worth it. This recipe, with raisins and pine nuts in a rich tomato sauce, is one of my favorites: a new take on an old Southern-Italian classic.
Wine pairing: When raisins are used in a savory dish, Ripasso Valpolicella from the Veneto makes a delicious wine pairing. And in this dish, Ripasso—a bright, extracted wine akin to a baby Amarone— echoes the sweetness of the raisins and savory flavors of the cheese and onions, while supporting the weight of the braised pork.
Braised Pork Rolls with Pine Nut and Raisin Risotto
(Braciole di Maile Ripiene con Riso all’Uvette Passita)
6 to 8 servings
- 4 cups vegetable broth (see page 66 in the book or use low-sodium vegetable broth)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Two slices medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped to make ½ cup
- Finely-ground sea salt and white pepper
- 1 1/4 cups Arborio or Carnaroli superfino rice
- 1/3 cup dry Italian white wine
- 1 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano, finely grated to make 3/4 cup
- 2/3 cup dark raisins
- 2/3 cup golden raisins
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 12 to 16 slices of pork shoulder, 2 to 3 ounces each, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
- 12 to 16 pieces of thin butchers or bakers twine, (two to three feet each; see note)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup dry Italian white wine
- 1 24-ounce bottle Italian tomato puree (passata)
Make the risotto:
In a medium heavy-gauge sauce pan or pot over medium heat, bring vegetable broth to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer.
In a medium heavy-gauge sauce pan or skillet at least 3 inches deep (with lid handy), combine olive oil and onion over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and translucent but not browned. If needed, add 2 tablespoons water to help onion soften without browning—just be sure water has evaporated before moving to the next step. Season with salt and white pepper.
Add rice and stir for two minutes, until kernels are well coated. Pour in wine and stir until wine has evaporated. Ladle 1/2 cup of simmering broth into the rice and stir until reduced by two thirds. Add another ladle full and stir again until broth has reduced by two thirds. Repeat until most of the broth has been absorbed into the rice, which should take about 14 minutes from the time you begin adding the broth to the rice. At this point, rice should be tender but not mushy, with a creamy consistency. (You may have as much as a cup of broth left unused.)
Remove the risotto from heat and cover pot for two minutes. Remove lid and add cheese, dark and golden raisins, and pine nuts, stirring until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.
Make the braciole:
Spread a sheet of parchment paper out on a clean work surface. Arrange pork slices, widest ends facing you, on top of the parchment paper. Scoop a rounded tablespoonful of risotto onto the wide end of each slice.
Carefully tucking and folding, roll toward narrow end of the slice until you finish with a little bundle. Grab a length of twine in one hand and wrap and spiral the twine around the bundle, holding the bundle with your other hand to ensure filling is enclosed as much as possible, and tying loose ends of the twine when finished. Repeat with the remaining pork slices and filling.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On the stovetop, heat the olive oil in a heavy-gauge oven safe skillet with lid, or in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Place the braciole in pan and sear on all sides. Reduce heat to low, pour in wine, and simmer until wine has reduced by half. Add the tomato puree and remove from heat.
Cover skillet or Dutch oven and roast for 45 minutes. Let cool slightly. Remove twine from the braciole. Serve each bundle whole or slice into several circular pieces and fan out on serving plates. Top each serving with some of the tomato sauce.
Note: Be sure to pre-cut your lengths of twine and make them very long—two to three feet of twine per bundle is not too much. Using some extra twine makes shaping the bundles a little easier, and you will be removing the twine before you serve the braciole.
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