From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia
(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)
Risi e verza
750 ml (25½ fl oz/3 cups) chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
30 g (1 oz) unsalted butter
½ brown onion, finely diced
½ cabbage, thick spines removed, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled, bruised and left whole
200 g (7 oz/1 cup) carnaroli, vialone nano or arborio rice
sea salt and ground white pepper
50 g (1¾ oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
Pour the stock into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and keep it simmering.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium– low heat until the butter has melted. Add the onion, then reduce the heat to low and sauté for about 7 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the cabbage and garlic clove and stir well, then add about 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) of the hot stock. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until the cabbage has softened, stirring occasionally so the cabbage doesn’t stick to the base.
Add the rice to the pan and stir so the rice warms through and is coated with the buttery cabbage. Add a ladleful of hot stock and stir well, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid. When all the liquid has been absorbed, add another ladleful of stock and continue cooking the rice as described – you want to keep it quite soupy. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes, adding stock as needed (or boiling water if you run out of stock) until the rice is cooked but still has a bit of bite. Remove the pan from the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and remove the garlic clove (if you can find it!). Stir in the grated parmesan, then cover and let the risotto rest for a few minutes.
Serve on warmed plates, with extra parmesan on the side.
Rice was introduced into Italian cooking from the East, probably arriving in northern Italy via Venice. It is a staple in the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy and widely used in the Veneto. Around the Venetian lagoons, simple dishes such as ‘risi e bisi’ (rice and peas) abound in spring. Somewhere between a soup and a risotto, it is traditionally made ‘all’onda’, meaning it is ‘wavy’ or ‘runny’, much like the waves on the sea (or on the lagoon when the boats pass).
A similar dish eaten in autumn is ‘risi e verza’ (rice and cabbage). Surprisingly sweet and velvety, the addition of butter and salty parmesan at the end of cooking produces a soupy risotto that is well balanced and delicious.
You can use vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian, but I like the depth of flavour you get from using homemade chicken stock. I generally use everyday green cabbage but feel free to experiment with other varieties.