Dishin’ Up Some Italian History

This Tuesday’s meal—White Wine Lemon Basil Bay Scallops with an Asparagus, Pea, and Parmesan Risotto (that’s a mouthful - literally)—is a showstopper. I mean, how are you not drooling right now? I am. Order yours now.

When you’re enjoying your perfectly cooked risotto on Tuesday with all of its amazing ingredients, maybe you’ll wonder: “Where does this heavenly food come from?” Well, we did the research; we got your answers right here.

Risotto means “little rice” in Italian. It’s a dish of rice, usually short or medium grain, commonly Arborio, that’s been cooked in liquid until it reaches a creamy (and we think sublime) consistency. It’s extremely versatile like pasta. You can cook it in any liquid (stock, water, wine etc.) with any number of ingredients (protein, veggies, cheese etc.).

Risotto comes from Lombardy in northern Italy. It dates to the 15th century. Lombardy’s population was growing so there was a growing demand for food. They cleared the plains and put in rice fields. At that time, rice was a new grain in northern Italy, though it had been introduced to the Italians as a food crop by the Arabs in Sicily centuries earlier. (Rice actually had been in Italy since Roman times, but it was only taken as medicine.) “Riziculture,” or cultivating rice, spread west originally from China, India, and Thailand among other places in the far east.

One of the earliest references to rice in northern Italy is from a 14th-century manuscript known as the Libro per Cuoco (“cookbook”). In it is a recipe for Rixo in Bona Manera (“A Good Way for Rice”), which involves cooking rice in almond milk with sugar. (Hmm have to give that one a try. Sounds like a new breakfast staple.) Another early reference is a letter from the Duke of Milan to the Duke of Ferrara concerning twelve bags of rice seeds. It’s dated September 27, 1475.

So, as you can see, risotto and the rice that makes it have a long and fascinating history in Italy. You’re so prepared now you can go all professor on your friends and give a lecture on the subject. Or not. Maybe you’ll just appreciate that steaming bowl of goodness even more.

Rose McCarthy
Rose McCarthy