Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe, exporting around 60% of the rice it produces.
Rice plays an integral part in Italian cuisine (as well as in the broader Italian culture), with most regions proudly maintaining at least one traditional rice dish. In colder regions, such as Piedmonte, Lombardia and Veneto, rice is more important than pasta. In the often icy climate, a plate of rice gives instant comfort and retains its heat much longer than pasta.
Italian cooks and chefs choose the variety of rice according to the dish it will be used for, with a different choice for minestrone, antipasti, risotto, baked rice and dolci. Each region, however, has a preferred variety; Carnaroli is most popular in Piedmonte and Lombardia, while Vialone Nano is the preferred rice around Mantova, Verona and Venice.
By law, Italian rice is divided into six categories; communi, semifini, fini, superfini, parboiled and intergrale. These terms refer to size rather than quality, with superfine having the longest, fattest grains. Each type of rice fits into one of these categories but in practice many are unavailable outside the area in which they are produced.
Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano rices are grown in the northern Italian Po valley regions of Piedmonte, Lombardy and Romagna.
Rices for risotto have enough amylopectin to cling without becoming gummy, and the grain maintains sufficient firmness to provide the necessary al dente bite.
Arborio is the best known (and least expensive) of the superfino Italian rices, and therefore the most popular. This short, rounded, pearly grain grows in the north and is more polished than other Italian rices, thus retaining less starch but still producing a creamy end product. It has the unique capacity to absorb as much as five times its weight in liquid, while maintaining its shape. It also becomes stickier than Carnaroli or Vialone Nano.
Vialone Nano, a semifino rice from the Po valley in north eastern Italy, has a slightly longer grain than Arborio, but shorter and fatter than Carnaroli. It has good absorption, retains it shape during cooking, and is able to take more robust flavours with flair. It is great for timbales, arancini and soups like minestrone. The people of Verona will always use Vialone Nano.
Carnaroli is the best and highest quality long superfino Italian rice from Piedmonte – Antonio Carluccio calls it “the Ferrari of rices”. The medium grain is well rounded and extremely absorbent, with a complex starch structure. It is considered the aristocrat of rice for risotto, and traditionally risotto Milanese will only ever be made with Carnaroli.
Risotto Fino is an Australian development – Arborio with the same qualities as its Italian cousin.
Risotto is the most famous rice dish of Italy, closely related to the paellas of Spain and Middle Eastern pilaf. There are probably thousands of combinations, ranging from simple additions of mixed herbs or vegetables, to the most basic of all, risotto Milanese which includes saffron and bone marrow. However, the basic method is always the same, all that changes are the additional ingredients.
While most risottos are savoury, it can also be made as a dessert, containing fruits such as strawberries and melon.
In Italy, rice is also used as a stuffing for tomatoes or peppers, thickening soups such as minestrone, to make the little balls known as arancini, rice fritters and salads.
The Essential Ingredient imports only the highest quality rice from Italy, and our expert staff can help you choose the perfect variety for your needs. All of these rices are available now in-store and online.