Italy has a rich and strong tradition in bakery products. Every region and every single village has been contributing to the Italian gastronomic heritage with their traditional bakery recipes.
Not only Pasta is a key ingredient for Italian gastronomy, over the centuries, Italian cooks gave the world some of the most inventive ways of cooking rice. The famous Risotto, the Sicilian Arancinis, the tasty cold salads are just a few examples of how Italians eat rice, well-known for its quality, cultivated in the North of Italy. The most famous Italian varieties of rice are Carnaroli, Arborio, Roma, S.Andrea, Baldo, Vialone Nano and Balilla. Each variety can be processed to become white, brown or parboiled rice.
There are many possibilities about how rice has arrived to Italy: perhaps rice has taken hold via the Crusaders, or from the Arabs in Sicily or maybe Venetian merchants brought it back from the Middle and Far East. But it’s certain that rice is a veritable tradition for the Italian cuisine. The various phases of rice in Italy are fascinating: its cultivation in the XV century was diffused between the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. Without doubt, the most important period for Italian rice cultivation started in the XIX century, when the farmers of the province of Vercelli, in the North of Italy, joined together to open in 1853 one of the most efficient irrigation systems, further enlarged in 1866 with the construction of the Cavour Canal. The later has allowed the transfer of water resources from the near rivers such as the river Po. Without an adequate water supply and distribution system to flood the fields and thus protect the plants from the large temperature swings between day and night, the harvest would not have been possible. Today, Italian rice production depends upon the most advanced chemical and mechanical technology. The circa 15 million hundredweight obtained from 230.000 hectares (45% of which is concentrated in the province of Vercelli) is harvested and dried completely by machine.
From its conception, the rice grain will take from 40 to 60 days to reach maturity and be called “paddy”. When it is harvested, the paddy contains a high percentage of water, about 24% of its weight, that must be reduced to a maximum of 14.5% to ensure its optimum storage in silos. This is achieved by introducing hot air and the farmer’s work finishes once the paddy is stored in the warehouses and silos. Then, the paddy is transported to industrial establishments where the rice is passed through various conduits in a machine which removes dust, seeds, any residual matter and small stones. Then it undergoes husking, a process to remove the external covering of the grain. The resulting rice still contains grains with the husk intact and these are separated and recuperated on the basis of their weight difference by a machine called “paddy separator”. It is after this stage that the rice may be sold as «brown». The white rice is passed through processes of whitening and polishing. For the Parboiled Rice, the paddy is soaked or immersed in hot water under vacuum, then steamed cooked at a temperature above 100°C/212°F, and it is at this stage that the starch transforms from crystalline to gelatin, and finally dried until the water content is at the correct level before being milled following the normal procedure.
Carnaroli is the most famous variety of Italian rice thanks to its grains that remain well separated after the cooking process. This variety, together with Arborio, Roma, S. Andrea, Baldo and Vialone Nano, is perfect to cook the famous Italian Risotto. The Balilla variety is perfect for soups and desserts. White rice has always been traditionally used in Italy but parboiled rice has been gaining ground in recent years, especially in restaurants. White Rice, with a low content of lipids, protein and fiber, is an easily digestible food, suitable for daily nourishment and for a convalescent’s diet. It is an extremely versatile food in the kitchen, and can be used to form excellent single dishes, light and nutritious: it’s great to use Extra Virgin olive oil and aromatic herbs to give it a unique flavor. Brown Rice, richer in fibers and generally less impoverished than white rice, has a higher content of minerals and vitamins, important for a healthy and correct nourishment. It is recommended for all disturbances whose cause is tied to a low fiber diet. An excellent potassium content, relative to salt, makes it ideal for those who must not consume too much salt. Having a more intense flavor than white rice, it is better to combine it with vegetables. Parboiled rice, thanks to its production method, has a higher nutritive value: it’s also more digestible and has a lower quantity of glucose, so it’s advisable for diabetics. One of its main characteristic is the fact that the grains always remain “al dente” and separated. It’s important to store rice under correct conditions: it is an unadulterated and delicate product, the surroundings should be kept airy and not humid at a temperature not greater than 17°C/63°F, away from substances that release particularly strong odors.
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