Tag Archives: rice

Celebrating The New Year Deliciously: Sartu' di Riso

Rice Sartu'

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I love simple and quick recipes. Like most of you, I don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen just for the pleasure of it, especially on a week day, so I tend to opt for dishes that can be ready in a couple of hours.

Of course there are exceptional times and the holidays are one of them. First of all, I am always (well let’s say often!) in a very good mood because I love Christmas time. There is something magic about it and it seems to affect my way of being in a positive way! ūüėČ

Second of all, my parents are always visiting us and when they are in our house, I feel this strong urge to eat dishes whose flavors bring up childhood memories. I’m sure many of you have experienced the same feeling when mommy is around. You automatically return to play the child’s role as if no years had gone by since you were a little kid (although in the meantime you may have become a parent yourself!) and spent time in the kitchen watching your mom prepare some delicious food.

Last but not least, having my parents in the kitchen equals four additional hands capable of working in harmony, without supervision,¬†tremendously shortening the cooking time¬†and, most importantly, delivering spectacular results, no matter what. I could not ask for more! ūüôā

Well, after some thought, I have settled on the well known Neapolitan “sartu’ di¬†riso” or rice sartu’ as my dish of choice¬†to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

Let me tell you about the way this great dish was born according to a story that I recently read on an Italian website, which amused me so much that I think it is worth sharing.

Rice Sartu'According to this story, rice first arrived in Naples from Spain at the end of the 14th century, along with the Aragonese domination. ¬†Unfortunately for those little grains, people from Naples did not like them at all! Apparently, they associated rice with the food given to people sick with gastrointestinal diseases (boiled white rice). For this reason, Neapolitans started calling rice “belly washer”! ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā

According to the story, rice migrated to more welcoming lands, i.e., to the North of Italy where it was received with all the honors and decided to make itself at home there, thus starting a long-standing tradition of delicious risotto dishes. ūüôā

Four long centuries had to go by before rice would come back to the Neapolitan soil and finally get the attention and credit it deserves. In the 18th century, Naples was under French domination and the Neapolitan aristocratic families really wanted to fit in and looked sophisticated before the eyes of the new rulers, so they started speaking French and eating French food. So, the kitchens of Neapolitan aristocrats became the reign of French cooks and those Neapolitan cooks who knew how to cook French food.

Now, the French happened to love rice, so the cooks had to find a way to make the Neapolitan nobles like rice, one way or another. The first¬†thing they did was to add some tomato sauce (so beloved by the Campanian palates) to the rice. But¬†that wasn’t enough! So they decided to also add peas, fried eggplants and small meatballs to the rice to enrich its taste. Those¬†sneaky¬†cooks came up with the idea of putting all these yummy “treats” on top of the rice as a garnishment to make the nobles’ mouths water. The French¬†translation of “on top of¬†everything” is “sur tout“. The passage from the French “sur tout” to the¬†Neapolitan adaptation “sartu’” was just a short step! ūüėČ

Every food story has¬†and should have a happy ending. This one is no exception. The Neapolitan aristocrats¬†ended up loving sartu’ very much and, little by¬†little, this amazing dish found its way to the tables of those who were not as privileged, proving that good food¬†doesn’t know social stratification! ūüėČ

Before we get to the actual recipe, let me just clarify one point.¬†Both my parents are from the South of Italy but neither of them is from¬†Naples. Thus, the recipe that I’m about to share is my¬†family’s version of sartu’. I have read¬†and seen many¬†versions of this dish and I¬†noticed that most of them use the so-called Neapolitan ragu’ (a meat-based tomato sauce that is made, among other ingredients, with ground meat and sausages) as the assembling sauce of the sartu’ as opposed to my family’s version which calls for simple tomato sauce. As to the filling and the garnishment, I have¬†seen sausages, eggplants, mushrooms, chicken livers and even pancetta. As cheese, some use some provolone cheese in¬†lieu of mozzarella cheese.

What I’m trying to say is twofold: firstly, ¬†our recipe can be just a starting point for you to come up with your own family version of sartu’, being creative and using the ingredients that you and your loved ones like the most.

Secondly, if there is some of you, beloved readers, who comes from Naples (or whose family comes from there) and is willing to share their thoughts and family traditions about this rice masterpiece, I would love to hear from you!

And now, without further ado, let’s get a little technical! ūüėČ

Rice Sartu'


1 pound, Arborio rice

For the tomato sauce:

3/4 of 1 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped (optional)
2 cans, San Marzano peeled tomatoes
3/4 pound, green peas

For the meatballs and tomato sauce: 

1 pound, ground beef
3 slices, white bread
3/4 Tbsp, whole milk
8 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
3 eggs
2 cups, vegetable oil
1/4 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 can, San Marzano peeled tomatoes

For the filling and assembling:

10 mozzarella ciliegine
4 hard boiled eggs
8 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese


Take the mozzarella ciliegine out of the water and put them in a colander until it’s time to use them for the filling so that they will lose their excess water.

Put the bread slices into the milk. If you don’t have milk, you can use some water instead.

In a non-stick large pot, pour the oil and, if you decide so, the onion (my mother doesn’t use it ūüôā ) and cook, on a very low heat, until the onion softens.

Place a food mill directly on top of a pot and process the tomatoes, add some salt (to taste) and let the sauce cook in the pot on medium heat. After about 15 minutes, add the peas. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates completely and the sauce thickens.

While the first sauce is cooking, put the ground meat into a bowl. Squeeze the bread with your hands and add it to the meat. Add the Parmigiano cheese, the eggs, some salt (to taste) and knead the meat mixture with your hands until you obtain a smooth and homogeneous mixture. With the help of your hands, make small meatballs. Their size should be that of half a walnut.

Pour the vegetable oil into a non-stick medium/large pot on medium heat and when the oil is hot, fry the meatballs. Put the fried meatballs in some paper towel so that the paper absorbs the excess oil.

Pour the olive oil into another non-stick pot, add the onion and cook, on a very low heat, until the onion softens. Always with the help of a food mill, process the tomatoes, put them into the pot, add some salt (to taste) and let the sauce cook on medium heat. After about 20 minutes, add the fried meatballs. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates completely and the sauce thickens.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the rice and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the rice, add the peas, tomato sauce and 5/6 Tbsp of Parmigiano cheese and, with the help of a wooden spoon, toss to coat.

In a bundt cake pan, put some of the rice mixture up to half the height of the pan. Cut the mozzarella ciliegine in half and distribute them evenly on top of the rice mixture. Cut the hard boiled eggs into bits and add them on top of the rice and the ciliegine. With the help of a paddle, repeat the same process with some of the meatballs. Cover the ciliegine, the eggs and the meatballs with the rest of the rice. Finish up by adding the rest of the Parmigiano cheese as well as some tomato sauce with a few meatballs.

Preheat the oven at 350 F. Put the sartu’ in¬†the oven for about 30 minutes. Let it cool off completely and¬†turn the sartu’ over on a serving plate.

I usually put the rest of the tomato sauce and meatballs in the hole in the middle of the sartu’. Unfortunately, I did not¬†have¬†enough meatballs left to decorate the top of my sartu’ because Stefano was famished and ate lots of meatballs which were supposed to be used as garnishment. ūüėČ Hopefully, your equivalent of him is not going to be around when you are about to put the finishing touches on your dish! ūüėČ You can even use some slices of hard boiled eggs as final garnishment.

A little note as a final touch. My pan worked beautifully and it was very easy to turn my sartu’ over once it cooled off. I have read that, if you are not completely sure¬†about your pan, you can grease it with some butter and cover it with breadcrumbs. I haven’t tried this method yet so I cannot vouch for it but my mom tells me that it works wonderfully. ūüôā

Well, this was sure long, but hopefully worth it! ūüôā Please let me know if any of you decides to give it a shot and try it out!

May you all have a smashing, wonderful and delicious New Year! ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā

A haunting memory: apple and speck risotto

Apple and speck risotto2 Servings

Have you ever happened to go to a restaurant or a dinner party and eat something that “shocked” your taste buds so much (in a positive way, I mean)¬†that the memory of that dish has been haunting you ever since? That’s exactly what happened to me a few Christmases ago.

We were spending our holiday vacation in Courmayeur, a gorgeous ski resort located in Val d’Aosta, a mountainous region¬†in northern Italy, at the foot of the¬†Mont Blanc. One evening, famished after an entire day of skiing, we were enjoying dinner at one of the lovely restaurants in town. After carefully reading the menu, my father announced that he was going to order the apple and speck risotto. Just the idea sounded really promising and intriguing. We were not disappointed. The contrast between the tastiness¬†of the speck (a type of¬†dry-cured, smoked ham)¬†and the sweetness of the apple was a match made in heaven!!!

I’ll never forget that risotto. The “version” that we tasted was made with Granny Smith apples,¬†but the original recipe, that originates from¬†Trentino Alto-Adige, another region in northern Italy, actually¬†calls for Golden Delicious¬†apples that are extensively¬†grown in that¬†region.

I have been meaning to make this risotto for quite some¬†time and, eventually, I felt “inspired” to give it a try. Hauted by the memory,¬†I decided to use some Granny Smith apples (which, by the way, are my favorite kind of apples) but feel free to use the kind of apples you like the most.

I’m really happy of how this risotto turned out. We¬†all¬†loved¬†it so much that¬†it has now¬†found a regular place on our table. Here is the recipe –¬†hopefully, you will love it too!

Apple and speck risotto


1 cup, peeled Granny Smith apple cubes
2 slices of speck, 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup, chopped onions
1 and 1/2 Tbsp, butter
7 oz, Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/2 cup, dry white wine
4/5 cups, beef stock
2 and 1/2 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese


Cut up the speck into bits.

In a small pot, put the apple cubes, pour 1/4 cup of wine, add a ladle of beef stock and cook, on a very low heat, for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium-size non-stick pot, put 1 Tbsp of butter and the chopped onion and cook until the onion softens.

Add the rice and toss to coat for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the rest of the wine in and keep stirring until the wine evaporates completely.

Add the speck bits and two ladles of beef stock and cook, constantly stirring, until the stock is absorbed. When the beef stock has been absorbed, add another ladle of stock and keep cooking until absorbed, and then repeat the process adding more stock.

About 10 minutes after the first addition of stock, add the apple cubes along with their cooking liquid.

Keep cooking, constantly stirring, and add the rest of the stock little by little until the rice is creamy and cooked al dente. This will take about 18 minutes from the time the first ladle of stock is added. Taste the rice to check if it is necessary to add some salt, bearing in mind that the speck is pretty salty in and of itself.

Remove the pot from the heat, add 1/2 Tbsp of butter and stir until the butter is completely melted. Then, add 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of Parmigiano cheese and stir until you obtain a creamy risotto.

Put the risotto into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the parmigiano cheese and some pepper.

And while you enjoy your risotto… Stefano and I wish you all a very happy Halloween! ūüôā

Saffron "Milanese" Risotto

Francesca's Safron Risotto

2 Servings

Every time I make risotto for my American friends they look at me¬†like I’m serving them some kind of magical concoction. ¬†ūüôā ¬†It is instead a very simple dish to make and these are the reasons why I decided to publish this recipe:

1. Once you master the making process of this risotto (which I personally consider to be the basic one) you will be able to make any risotto. You can unleash your imagination in terms of ingredients and be as creative as you can.

2. I’m very fond of this risotto. My mother used to make it for us¬†when I was a child (although it belongs to the Milan cuisine¬†tradition). During the time that I spent working and living in Milan,¬†I think I ate tons of saffron risotto in restaurants and households.¬†Nowadays, famous master chefs are reinventing this wonderful¬†dish by adding ingredients or changing the process, making you believe¬†that they are revealing you the secret of the Holy Grail (and, of¬†course, asking you an outrageous amount of money for such revelation!)¬†This is something that I personally condemn. What’s wrong about continuing to cook a dish the traditional way, when the original recipe has been perfect for centuries? Thank goodness, there are still old¬†trattorie in Milan that go way back and still serve you the real¬†thing, letting your palate experience¬†something unique.

3. There is a legend about the creation of this dish that is so lovely and¬†amusing that I think it is worth sharing. It was 1574 and the Duomo in¬†Milan was being built. A group of Belgian glass makers, under the¬†direction of their master, Valerio of Fianders, were working on the¬†stain-glass windows representing episodes of the life of St.¬†Elena.¬†One of Valerio’s apprentices was known for his ability to make¬†wonderful colors. His secret? He used to add some saffron to the color¬†mixture creating amazing chromatic effects.¬†On September 8, 1574 the wedding of the daughter of master Valerio was being celebrated. This apprentice (some say as a joke, some say as a¬†gift to the bride) came up with the idea of adding some saffron to the¬†risotto that was going to be served during the nuptial meal. The¬†result? The yellow risotto was a hit among the guests and this classic¬†of the Milan cuisine was created.

Now, I could keep going telling you about the history of rice, how and¬†when rice arrived in Italy and how it was cultivated, but I think I’ll¬†stop here because this post is getting longer than a chapter in a Tolstoy book ūüėČ

Let me just tell you a couple of things before we get down to the recipe.

First, the kind of rice. The best kind of rice to make risotto is¬†carnaroli rice (which along with arborio rice and vialone nano rice¬†are the most common rice varieties that are used in making risotto). The best¬†brand of carnaroli rice is called Acquerello. Easy to find? Not at¬†all! Not even in Milan. I had to go to the “jewellers” (that’s what I¬†call the very expensive grocery stores in Milan like Peck at Via¬†Spadari) to buy the famous Acquerello round metallic box. Bottom¬†line? I usually use the less expensive and easier to find arborio rice.

Second, the original recipe calls for beef marrow. Again, not easy¬†to find… even in Italy. I used to order it from my butcher in¬†advance. So if you happen to put your lucky hands on some beef marrow,¬†just remember that you have to cut it off into small pieces and cook¬†it along with the shallot before adding the rice.

Francesca's Safron RisottoIngredients:

1/2 shallot
1 and 3/4 of 1 Tbsp, butter
5.5 oz of Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 and 1/2 cups of beef stock
1 sachet of powdered saffron
2 and 1/2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese


Finely mince the shallot. In a medium-size non-stick pot, put 1 Tbsp¬†of butter and the minced shallot and cook, over low heat, until the¬†shallot softens.¬†Add the rice and toss to coat for 1 to 2 minutes. We say that we¬†“toast” the rice.¬†Pour the wine in and keep stirring until the wine evaporates completely.

Add two ladles of beef stock and cook, constantly stirring, until the stock is absorbed. Bear in mind that the stock must be very hot, otherwise cold stock will prevent the rice from cooking. When the beef stock has been absorbed, add another ladle of hot stock and keep cooking until absorbed, and then repeat the process adding more stock. About 9 minutes after the first addition of stock, separately melt the powdered saffron in a little stock and add it to the cooking rice.

Keep cooking, constantly stirring, and add the rest of the stock little by little until the rice is creamy and cooked al dente. This will take 18 to 20 minutes from the time the first ladle of stock is added. When you are about to remove the pot from the heat, taste the rice and salt if necessary.

Remove the pot from the heat, add 3/4 of 1 Tbsp of butter and stir¬†until the butter is completely melted. Then, add 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of¬†Parmigiano cheese and stir until you obtain a creamy risotto – we say¬†that the risotto must make “waves” ūüôā

Put the risotto into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the Parmigiano cheese.

Just a couple of extra suggestions before I leave you.

You can replace the shallot with onion. The cooking process is exactly the same as described above.

If you are using saffron pistils as opposed to powdered saffron, put the pistils in some hot stock. With the help of a strainer, drain the stock and add it to the rice. Set the pistils aside. When the risotto is ready to be served, add the pistils on top of the plate as a garnishment.