This post comes courtesy of Williams-Sonoma food buyer Allyson Holt.
On a recent trip to Italy with the Williams-Sonoma food buying team, I had the pleasure of learning how Acquerello, a superior form of extra-quality Carnaroli rice, is grown and aged to perfection. We enjoyed lunch at the picturesque Colombara farm, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where rice has been cultivated more than 400 years.
The current family’s ownership dates back to 1935, when Cesare Rondolino bought the farm. Over the course of four decades, Cesare and his sons Piero and Michele increased the farm’s size and capabilities, becoming one of the region’s largest rice producers.
In the 1990s, Piero developed Acquerello, the Carnaroli rice grown, aged, whitened and packed in Italy. Supported by positive feedback from experts and consumers, Piero and his son Rinaldo decided to reduce the terrain to only the most fertile 140 hectares and to sow only one variety of rice, Carnaroli — regarded by many as the best for risotto.
The unhusked rough rice is aged for at least one year, then whitened slowly and finally restored with its vital germ.
The re-enrichment of the refined rice with its germ restores the most valuable nutrients of brown rice, usually lost in the typical refining process. Acquerello undergoes an exclusive patented process where the recovered germ, very tender and soft, is slowly mixed with white rice so that it melts and penetrates inside the grain while the remainder adheres to its exterior.
The result: grains that stay perfectly intact, consistent and tastier without any stickiness. In other words, your risotto turns out perfectly every time.
As the stone buildings of Colombara came into sight, it was clear this scene had not changed in four centuries. Our hosts, Maria and Piero, greeted us as we walked toward the building, filled with aromas of rich risotto dishes and more.
We visited the aging silos, where the freshly harvested crop must be stored as long as possible in unique steel silos at a constant controlled temperature; during this time, the starch, combined with the oxygen, optimizes the rice’s characteristics. The silos keep the grains separated by age and are filled to the top with rice.
We adjourned to the big family dining table and joined Maria, Piero and many friends and family for lunch. Maria was delighted to share numerous dishes that showcased Acquerello. The steaming bowls and platters set before us included traditionally made creamy risottos with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, lemon zest, white wine and a touch of butter, as well as boiled rice and a host of other options to add to the rice.
Everything was delicious, but most surprising was the preparation of simply boiling the rice for about 12 minutes — no stirring or toasting required! The result was beautifully cooked rice, with the grains still intact.
Maria then demonstrated how to turn the rice into a colorful salad by adding Italian pickled vegetables (giardiniere). Next, she added lightly sun-dried cherry tomatoes packed in olive oil to a hot skillet for a quick sauté. In went the rice and a couple of tosses later, the mixture was on our plates.
Just when I felt I could not eat another bite, Maria presented dessert: a rice pudding gelato starring — of course — Acquerello. The gelato was creamy and rich, with small bits of rice adding to its texture. Finally it was time to thank our hosts and head back to town, and as we drove toward the highway, the fields of rice waved good-bye.
Maria’s Boiled Rice
Lots of cold water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup Acquerello rice
Optional condiments: extra-virgin olive oil, basil pesto, flavored oils, sautéed vegetables or truffle butter
Put a good quantity of cold water into a medium-size saucepan. Bring the water to boil, then add the salt and rice. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 12 to 13 minutes. Drain the rice. Add condiments of choice, if desired. Makes about 2 cups.
About the author: My passion is to share with others great foods, recipes, and culinary inspirations. Today, in my role as food buyer for Williams-Sonoma, I travel the world seeking the best foods, ingredients, and artisanal producers. I then bring these same products to our stores to share with our customers. Prior to my experience at Williams-Sonoma, my husband and I launched a gourmet retail business in Ashland, Oregon. The most satisfying aspect of my previous role was the time that I spent teaching home chefs of all levels how to use the best ingredients to create memorable meals and dishes at home. I love to cook, entertain, and most of all, enjoy time spent creating food with love for friends and family.