Food For Thought: Rice

Rice would be considered one of the most important grains in history and it still holds a very important role today. 
 

Rice would be considered one of the most important grains in history and it still holds a very important role today. Grown in most of the world and in very simular ways and conditions, it is not until you look at the different varieties that you start to discover how cultures have created national dishes with their most abundant variety.

The Spanish conditions have lead to the cultivation of short-grain rice that is extremely absorbent, allowing them to infuse it with saffron and smoky paprika. The magic of risotto is only possible because of carnaroli rice grown in Vercelli, northern Italy.

This creamy grain is known as the ‘king of all rice’ and is the correct variety for making the perfect risotto. When serving rice with your favourite curry, basmati should be called on, perfumed with the smell jasmine. No curry would be complete without it. I find all carbohydrates pretty satisfying but the magic of rice for me is how different varieties teach me more about the country in which they come from.

With the recent popularity of Spanish food, Calesparra is becoming a staple in our pantries. A rice so important to Spain and Spanish food history, it was granted appellation control in 1986. This method of control ensures that only rice produced in the traditional way will have the title of Calesparra D.O.P. and is easily identified by its signature cloth bag.

When mastering the art of paella, remember that Calesparra rice will soak up to three times its weight in water. This gives you the perfect opportunity to season the rice with the flavours of Spain. When looking for an alternative to saffron and paprika, why not try adding some squid ink to the paella liquor and watch the grains glow with an intense black hue.

Italians have three main varieties; carnaroli, vialone and the more commonly known arborio. For me, arborio is no match for the amazingly creamy and plump grain of carnaroli. A creamy risotto is at its best when hot liquid is added in three or four batches. Constant stirring throughout cooking will agitate the grains and releases the starches, giving you that signature creamy finish that all good risotto should have.

Allow the risotto to rest with the lid on for five minutes before serving as this gives the grains time to relax and makes your risotto the perfect meal every time. Vialone nano is rice that is less commonly known than the others but holds a very special place in Italian cuisine. A creamy grain, but easier to cook with, it maintains its structure and will still give you a creamy and voluptuous finish. Vialone is perfect cooked in milk and cream with a split vanilla pod over a low heat and then baked in individual pots in the oven until just set. I love to serve this with golden caster sugar turned to brittle toffee with a blowtorch.

The combination of creamy vanilla rice and the bitter sweet crunchy topping,  is the ultimate dessert. Rice and all the dishes that come with it have a deep-rooted history. The famous and iconic dishes it has created are truly remarkable and should be embraced by us all. Experimenting with different grains and techniques will open up a whole new repertoire; a new world of food from a somewhat humble grain.
 

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Manchego Cheese

Ingredients
• 9 jarred or tinned piquillo peppers
• Extra virgin olive oil
• 300g Calasparra D.O.P. rice
• 900ml chicken stock
• Pinch saffron
• 1 bayleaf
• 2 tablespoons bittersweet paprika
• 2 fresh chorizo sausages
• 200g manchego cheese

Method
1. Drain and pat dry the piquillo peppers
2. Gently heat the chicken stock, saffronand bay leaf to a gentle boil
3. In a medium size saucepan, or better still a paella pan. heat a splash of olive oil, add the Calasparra rice and paprika. Stir until all the grains are shiny and slightly translucent, approximately two to three minutes.
4. Pour over the hot chicken stock. Stir to combine and then leave to simmer, uncovered for 10 – 15 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated (resist the temptation to stir).
5. Leave to cool off the heat.
6. Remove the chorizo from their skins in small bite size pieces.
7. In a medium to hot saucepan fry the chorizo until golden brown and crisp onall sides.
8. Take the cooled rice and stuff the piquillo peppers, discarding the bay leaf.
9. Snugly place them in individual tapas dishes or into one large ovenproof dish.
10. Scatter with the crispy chorizo balls and slices of manchego cheese.
11. Bake in a 200-degree oven until golden brown and the cheese is melted completely.
12. Serve hot from the oven with a drizzle of olive oil.

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