This is Highly recommended, a column devoted to what people in the food industry are obsessed with eating, drinking and buying right now.
Have you heard of ITALY? I love Italy. Ever since I saw Eat Pray Love, an excellent film, I’ve been obsessed with The Boot. The last time I was there with my mom in 2019 – she is the sensitive and romantic Elizabeth Gilbert and I am the overzealous and food obsessed Luca Spaghetti – we walked through Tuscany, Lake Como and Umbria filling our belt bags with truffle paste and Canned anchovies. When I got home, I immediately took Italian lessons and spent all my money on it Gustiamo.comand lurking wistfully on the Italian answer to Zillow, Idealista.
So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that my favorite rice is Acquerello – a variety of Carnaroli that is commonly used in Risotto, grown and ground by the Rondolino family in a perfectly romantic looking village in Piedmont. The name watercolorThank you for asking, means “watercolor” in Italian (because rice is grown in water!). Both 17.6 ounces of tin and the Honkins’ human-sized sack offer a delightful resemblance to the farm’s original manor house from the 17th century. I would be lying if I said the packaging isn’t a huge asset. I love shiny things.
If, like me, you’ve survived the last year on high carbohydrates, then you need Acquerello in your life. Heston Blumenthal, Britain’s culinary renaissance man best known for his scientific-sensory cuisine, called him “the best rice in the world”. And this self-anointed Italian connoisseur (me) agrees. The magic of Acquerello lies in its unique, patented (!) Processing method: After a year of maturation in temperature-controlled silos, the sugars in the starches develop into a nutty sweetness and the grains harden, which means that they are less absorbent and extracted. Don’t turn your risotto into mud.
“It’s fascinating; every kernel is remarkably smooth,” I said to my completely disinterested friend, who found me late at night inspecting the tiny pearls with a magnifying glass to avoid damaging the rice while Whitening– A process in which grains are usually passed through two abrasive, mechanized surfaces to remove germs and bran. – Instead, Acquerello uses a gentle tumbling process in which the grains are ground against each other. Most Carnaroli producers would discard the germ that gives brown rice its color and nutritious reputation, but the rondolinos are not most of them. They heat the fibrous leftovers so they can paint over the grains, so Acquerello cooks like a white rice, but is filled with all of the vitamins and minerals found in brown rice.
Looking for a second, bona fide Italian opinion and an effort to make my Italian tutor Milena proud, I emailed the cook Gabriele Boffawho has been using Acquerello rice at for three years Locanda del Sant’Uffizio, a Michelin-starred hotel and restaurant in the northwestern province of Asti. (I had heard of the palatial resort during my visit and added it to my future itinerary.) “With the production technique, the rice maintains good resistance to overcooking and offers a very pleasant grain structure under the teeth,” he explained in Italian. While Boffa mainly uses the rice for Locanda’s creamy red pepper and black olives risotto, he says it’s very versatile. Now I have prepared it in one Rice cooker, on the oven, and in the ovenI can confirm that Aquerello is hard to botch.
These days, while there are few joys, I enjoy my precious grains. Instead of blowing through them 5.5 lb. bag I like to ration it out in a couple of dinners; Manufacturing tomato risotto, cheesy aranciniand pea-stained risi e bisi whenever I need a little Italy in New York. And instead of devouring it in front of the TV, I bring my bowl and a bottle of Chianti into the bathroom, pour a tub salted with Epsom salts, and pretend the splashes are the sounds of the Tyrrhenian Sea lapping a pebbly shore. Inevitably the wine goes away and the bathroom gets cold and I’m still in my apartment, but then I remember there is a lot more rice in the sack.