Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Insalata di riso - Italian rice salad

I take my bike to work all year long, rain or shine, but now is my favorite time of the year. When I ride to work at 7am it is still cool, the city is quiet and the sky is already blue. Yesterday, while I was riding down the newly-built bike lanes in the center (an effort made for the recent mayoral elections), I had to come to a screeching halt because a pidgeon was crossing the street on a pedestrian crossing. When I saw the bird in the distance I slowed down to give it time to notice me and fly off. But no, it just looked at me and then turned back and continued walking. The nerve, but I guess it had right of way!

Back to the summer, last year I mentioned that there are a few extremely typical Italian summer dishes, the kinds pretty much every household starts making as soon as the hot sun starts shining down on the peninsula. Insalata di riso, one of the most popular Italian dishes yet one of the least known abroad, is one of those and there are as many variations of this dish as there are families making it.

There are however some basic ingredients any insalata di riso must have and strangely enough, none of these are fresh produce, despite the season. What makes it a summer dish par excellence is that it is served cold. These ingredients are cheese, ham, franks, pickled vegetables, tuna. Once you have the basics, you can go crazy.

The cheese should be semi hard: Swiss, fontina or other usually depending on what your grandma used.

Franks: yup, good 'ole hot dogs, possibly best quality.

Ham, or prosciutto cotto. Some like it in cubes and some thinly sliced and then cut up (can you guess how I like it?) .

Tuna in oil is also a really important ingredient, but whether you keep the oil for added flavor is your call.

Pickled vegetables: usually pickles, pearl onions and artichoke hearts are a must, but many like to add other vegetables like peppers or mushrooms.

Some people add olives. I like the Spanish anchovy-filled ones. Most like capers.

Some even add fresh ingredients like tomatoes and you can of course substitute the rice with brown rice, barley or farro. You can make it with pretty much anything that suits your fancy, giving it an oriental kick or keeping it vegetarian. I however wanted to present you with the traditional version, so you can all feel a little Italian this summer.

There is no real recipe because it is up to you to decide what ingredients to use and how much of them to use. Just promise me one thing: try to buy best-quality ingredients because it makes all the difference in this kind of dish. I was never partial to this rice growing up because there are some pretty nasty versions out there, skimping on quality, an absolute no-no in my book when it comes to preserves and cured meats. I admit it, I get very easily grossed out put off by an unappetizing, weird looking chunk of ham or waxy, tasteless olives.

Basically, you boil some rice in water, you rinse it and let it cool and dry. In the meantime you chop up all the ingredients (to give you an idea I used a jar of each preserve, 2 medium sized cans of tuna, 3 frankfurters - no need to cook them - a nice wedge of Swiss cheese and about 8 thin slices of ham for approximately 500gr of rice) and then you mix them all into the rice. The rice should be rich, never dry, but you don't really need to add any seasoning as the saltiness should come from the ingredients and the water you boiled the rice with and the oil and vinegar from the preserves. Once it is ready, store it in the fridge until serving. It is a typical potluck, BBQ or picnic dish.


  1. i like your plate. very cute.

    i wihs i lived in italy.. plethora of cheese yum!!

  2. Ohhh another dish from my childhood!!! Whenever I think of it, I think of summer. You are right... it is probably the most common summer dish in Italy. I used to make it just like you! :-) I can't believe you finally have bike lanes in the centre of Milano!!! hehehehe That's a really cute dish (and plate) you have there! :-)

  3. Wow! This looks wonderful! Love all the ingredients, can't wait to give this whirl.

  4. Yes! This is a must for the Italian summer! It's often in my fridge since June to September... and this year I definitely haven't made it enough!
    Out of curiosity, in my insalata di riso I put cheese (semi-hard one), tuna (only olive oil), olives (preferably green ones), ham (not in cubes :P), frankfurters, corn and raw red bell pepper. I never put pickled vegetables, instead.
    Then I dress it with some lemon juice, a tsp of mustard and 2 tbsp of mayonnaise (plus some more when I eat it, if necessary).
    It's a great dish!

  5. Rice salad is such a great summer dish! I remember eating it at the beach. My mom would prepare it in the morning and we would it for lunch before running off to play in the sand some more...
    Your version looks great! BTW I agree on using the best ingredients, condiriso is not among them....

  6. I've never had this! it looks great and I can imagine it would be nicely filling without being too heavy, perfect after a long beach jaunt!

  7. Dolly - I agree, there are some amazing cheeses here.
    Manu - I knew insalata di riso would stir up some memories. And I find it interesting that foreigneres don't really know about it. There are new bike lanes in Corso Venezia, between Palestro and Porta Venezia.
    Andrea - it is a great dish to bring to a pool party. Very tasty
    Giulietta - ciao Giulietta! I love hearing your version of insalata di riso. The idea of dressing it with a touch of lemon juice, mustard and mayo is great, I must try next time. Thanks
    Pola - I knew this post would stir up memories and conversation with my friend Italians. I love how a dish can do that. So many people use condiriso as a base, but there are a few things in it that I am not crazy I stick to making it myself.
    Nicole - I am surprised that in your years in Italy you were never served this, espcially in the Roman summer heat. Perhaps it is more common in Northern Italy?

  8. This looks really delicious and so full of flavour! I wish we were in Summer here. Instead it has been raining. Actually I'd like to be in Summer and eating this rice salad :D

  9. I just love your fish platter! This rice salad looks pretty darn delicious too =)

  10. Lorraine - my Brazilian friend insists this should be eaten all year round, not just in the summer the way Italians religiously do. After all, there are no seasonal ingredients in it.
    Peggy - I loved it when I saw it in the store

  11. Love it! And great pictures too :)

    My grandma still makes it in the summer when it gets too hot because it's a great cold dish. Whenever she does, though, ironically a thunderstorm immediately comes... This has become so reliable in my family that when we need some rain we just ask grandma to make her salad. Works like a charm!

    So I now have to check: did the weather change when you made this dish?

  12. This dish sounds amazing! Thank you for sharing. I will definitely have to try to make this. Check out my blog if you are interested. I'm new at this so it is still a work in progress :)


Leave a suggestion, opinion or your own experience. I love hearing from you.