Three Famous Venetian Rice Dishes & our Favorite Autumn Risotto

Writing about soul food can never be complete without mentioning our beloved risotto dishes here in Venice. And, risotto has been a staple dish in our family ever since, we even observe the “Risotto Tuesday” :-) Rice arrived in the Veneto region in the 9th century AD, when Venetian merchants bought it via Amalfi from the Arabs that had introduced rice to Sicily. Today, most rice grown in the Veneto either comes from the Rovigo area or from the flatlands around and south of Verona.

Soon, rice became THE staple food for the Venetians. Just think of their signature dish, or national dish so to say, which is risi e bisi. The Doge and his guests ate risi e bisi (rice and green peas) on St. Mark’s Day (25 April). This is one of the recipes which arrived in our times. Others still wait to be re-discovered … and there are so many family recipes for risotto here, for every season. Often enriched with dried fruit, savoury or even sweet.

The other well-known Venetian rice dishes are risotto al radicchio and riso al nero di seppia. We’ll talk about these when their season has arrived !

In Venice, I buy rice either at Drogheria Mascari’s or at Casa del Parmigiano which I mentioned a few times in this blog series. You can see their fine selection above. You even get riso alla zucca e mela, which is rice enriched with squash and apples.

Venetians are quite strict about which rice to choose. and for risotto, riso arborio is di rigore ( a must-have !). But then, there are a number of other rice varieties on sale too, flavored and natural.

Here’s the family recipe I announced above. You can taste the Venetian September in it, from grapes to herbs and a hint of warming spices.

This is our Riso al curcuma, Asiago, funghi porcini e uva nera – Risotto flavored with turmeric and cinnamon, Asiago cheese, cepes and black grapes.

Fry cepes (fresh or dried) in olive oil, add grapes and blueberries if you like. At the same time, prepare your risotto in the Venetian way, which is stirring a lot, adding a bit of water, then stirring again … when your rice is almost al dente, add the cepes and grapes, plus tiny cubes of Asiago cheese (or Mozzarella if you like). Serve with chives, black pepper, lemon-flavored olive oil and another handful of grated parmesan cheese.


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