I like rice. That has helped over the years as people with senses of humor more suited to noodles have chuckled as they serve "rice to Rice." Editor and Publisher Magazine once printed a one-sentence joke to the effect that someone named Rice was covering the Food Editors Conference. A real thighslapper. I'm weak on my family genealogy, but to the best of my knowledge I have no Chinese ancestors, no Uncle Ben, nor has anyone in my family been a rice farmer.
In my kitchen, rice has no special status. I use it when I don't use potatoes or pasta, although sometimes at least two of this lovable starch trio do appear at the same meal. (Calories aside, I'd be happy to eat all three.) As much, and maybe even more than the other starches, rice's enduring charm lies in its versatility. Rice as risotto, with meat, fish or chicken in a casserole, served hot in a soup or cold in a salad, mixed with sugar and eggs to fashion a dessert. You don't eat it all, so the next day, or the next after that, you make fried rice.
Rice comes in a variety of sizes and at least two forms. Its first was used-or at least people first wrote about using it-in China. The year it arrived in this country, undoubtedly memorized by every South Carolina school child, was 1694. It became popular in the South, but has never become the diet staple it is in the Orient.
Depending on how strongly you feel about "natural" foods, processors have either done awful things to rice or simply made it much more convenient to use. Brown rice has only the hulls removed, should be washed and requires considerable time to cook. Converted rice has been processed to remove the hulls, germ, outer bran and most of the inner bran. It has been given booster shots of vitamin B-1, niacin, iron and possibly vitamin D and calcium in an effort to return some of the nutrients that were removed in the processing. It needs no washing before cooking. "Instant" rice has been precooked and dried. Wild Rice is not the black sheep of the family. It isn't rice at all, but grain harvested from a species of wild grass.
There are some 7,000 varieties of rice. For most purposes, it is enough to know that "long-grain" rice is what you want to serve with chicken and gravy or as a casserole. "Short grain" is about two-thirds shorter, has a chalky as opposed to a translucent color and tends to stick together when cooked. Therefore eaters welding chopsticks prefer it, as do chefs making croquettes, rice rings or puddings. While the American rice sold in supermarkets can hold up its head at a gathering of gourmets, there are some special types that are exceptional, including basmati from India or Iran, Arborio rice from Italy and a wild pecan rice grown in Texas.
Cooking rice is as simple as buying it, though countless stubborn cooks continue to try to prove the opposite. The directions on the package of supermarket rice do work. The French like to saute some onion in butter, stir in the rice, then add twice as much liquid (stock, preferably) and a bit of nutmeg. Stir once, cover the pan and allow 20 minutes at a simmer. Holes will appear in the top crust of the rice when it is cooked.
Another option is to bring two quarts of water to a boil, add salt and then a cup of rice, slowly to maintain the boil. Stir and boil uncovered for 12 to 14 minutes. Test a few grains by crushing or biting into them. When tender, drain in a sieve or colander. Cover with cheesecloth. Add some water to the pan, bring it to a boil and place the sieve over the water. Steam over low heat until the rice is fluffy or until it is needed.
Orientals cook short-grain rice using only about 1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. Add salt to the pan, cover it and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring twice. When the water boils, lower the heat and simmer until all liquid is absorbed.
Perhaps the most delicious way to prepare rice that I know is the Persian method for making chelo . That and a handful of other recipes using rice follow.
JAMES BEARD'S CHELO
(8 to 10 servings) 2 cups long grain rice, preferably basmati Salt 1 stick (4 ounces) clarified butter, plus 1/2 stick, melted
If using basmati rice, wash it in hot water, then soak it in salted water for several hours. This is not necessary with converted rice.
Heat 2 1/2 quarts of water to boiling, then add 1 1/2 tablespoons salt and the rice.Boil for 10 minutes, then drain rice. Rinse with boiling water and drain well.
Choose a heavy pot with a tightly fitting cover. Place a folded tea towel on the bottom side of the cover and tie it in place with another towel fitted over the top. (The towel will absorb steam from the rice as it cooks.) Melt 1 stick of butter in the bottom of the pot. Add the rice, then pour the 1/2 cup melted butter over the rice. Place the lid on the pot and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. There should be a crusty layer at the bottom.Remove it separately and place some atop each portion of rice as a garnish.
Note: Olive oil may be used in place of butter.
RICE STUFFING FOR SMALL BIRDS
(Makes about 1 1/2 cups) 1/2 cup cooked rice (cooked in vegetable or chicken stock, preferably) 2 shallots or scallions, minced 6 mushrooms, finely chopped (about 1 cup) 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil Liver and heart from bird or birds, chopped 1 tablespoon brandy Freshly ground pepper to taste 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 leaves of sage, crushed 1/4 teaspoon died rosemary, crushed
Melt butter in a frying pan. Add shallots, mushrooms, liver and heart and saute until mushrooms begin to give off juice. Add brandy and flame. When flame dies, season with salt, pepper, sage and rosemary, and rice and mix well. Let cool before stuffing birds.
TIAN DE COURGES
(Baked Zucchini, Rice and Cheese)
(6 servings) 6 zucchini, unpeeled or squash peeled 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, minced 2/3 cup cooked rice 1/2 cup freshly grated Swiss or parmesan cheese 1/2 cup chopped parslay 1 egg, beaten Salt Freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
Chop the zucchini or pumpkin or squash. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the onion until tender. Add the zucchini or pumpkin or squash and cook for 10 minutes over low flame, stirring from time to time. Remove from heat and cook a little.
Blend the rice, cheese, parsley, egg, salt and pepper and combine with the zucchini and onion. Spread the mixture in an oiled shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and bake for 20 minutes.
Variations: Before baking, cover, the dish with 4 tomatoes, cut in half and gently squeezed to remove excess water and seeds; omit the bread crumbs and sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped parsley, salt, pepper and a little olive oil all over the top.
If you want to make a finer, more delicate version of this dish, pass the vegetables through a food mill before covering with the bread crumbs and olive oil. Bake for only 15 minutes at 375 degrees.
-From "Cuisine of the Sun" by Mireille Johnson
RICE WITH ARTICHOKES AND OLIVES
(4 servings) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped 1 package (10 ounces) frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, cut in half 2 cups whole tomatoes, chopped 1 teaspoon marjoram 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 anchovies, chopped 6 black olives, pitted, chopped 1 cup uncooked long-grain rice 1/2 cup grated romano cheese
In a saucepan, heat oil and brown onion for 2 minutes. Add artichoke hearts and saute for 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, marjoram, salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. Add an chovies and olives and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cook rice according to directions on package. Drain and place in serving bowl. Cover with sauce and sprinkle with grated cheese. Serve not.
-From "The Art of Sicilian Cooking"
by Anna Muffoletto
BROWN RICE PILAU
(6 servings) 1 1/2 cups raw brown rice 3 cups chicken stock 1 teaspoon ground turmeric 1/3 cup dried currants 1/4 cup Maderia wine 1/2 cup chopped green onions 1/3 cup pine nuts 1 1/2 teaspoons minced preserved gingeroot 2 tablespoons butter
Cook rice in chicken stock with turmeric till done, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and add rest of ingredients. Let stand over hot water for 15 minutes before serving. Fine with chicken, turkey and ham.
-From "A Cooking Legacy" by Virginia T. Elverson and Mary Ann McLanahan
TORTA DI RISO USO GARFAGNANA
(RICE CUSTARD CAKE)
(6 TO 8 SERVINGS) 1 SCANT CUP RAW RICE, PREFERABLY ITALIAN ARBORIO PINCH OF SALT 5 EGGS 9 TABLESPOONS PLUS 1 CUP GRANULATED SUGAR 1/2 CUP DRY MARSALS 1 TABLESPOON CONFECTIONERS' SAGAR 1 1/2 CUPS COLD MILK GRATED PEEL OF A MEDIUM-SIZED ORANGE OR LEMON 3 OR 4 DROPS VANILLA EXTRACT
PUT THE RICE IN A SAUCEPAN CONTAINING 6 CUPS OF COLD WATER AND A PINCH OF SALT. PLACE THE PAN ON A MEDIUM FLAME AND KEEP STIRRING WITH A WOODEN SPOON UNTIL THE WATER REACHES THE BOILING POINT, THEN STOP STIRRING AND LET THE RICE HALF COOK (ABOUT 10 OR 12 MINUTES). REMOVE THE SAUCEPAN FROM THE FLAME, DRAIN THE RICE, AND COOL IT UNDER COLD RUNNING WATER. LEAVE THE RICE IN THE COLANDER.
PLACE THE EGGS IN A BOWL WITH THE 9 TABLESPOONS SUGAR AND BEAT WITH A WOODEN SPOON. WHEN THE EGGS CHANGE COLOR, TURNING ALMOST WHITE, ADD THE MARSALA, CONFECTIONERS' SUGAR, COLD MILK, GRATED ORANGE OR LEMON PEEL AND VANILLA. STIR VERY WELL UNTIL ALL INGREDIENTS ARE WELL COMBINED.
PUT THE 1 CUP SUGAR IN A HEAVY SAUCEPAN AND PLACE ON A VERY LOW FLAME. LET THE SUGAR CARMELIZE VERY SLOWLY. WHEN GOLDEN BROWN, QUICKLY POUR IT INTO A LOAF PAN (9-BY-5-BY-2 3/4 INCHES) AND MOVE IT AROUND SO THE PAN IS LINED COMPLETELY. PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES.
TRANSFER THE RICE FROM THE COLANDER TO THE BOWL CONTAINING THE OTHER INGREDIENTS. MIX THOROUGHLY, THEN POUR ALL THE CONTENTS OF THE BOWL INTO THE PREPARED PAN. PLACE PAN IN THE PREHEATED OVEN FOR 1 1/2 HOURS.
REMOVE THE PAN FROM THE OVEN AND LET REST UNTIL COOL (ABOUT 1 HOUR) THEN COVER THE PAN COMPLETELY WITH ALUMINUM FOIL AND PLACE IN THE REFRIGERATOR FOR AT LEAST 5 HOURS.
UNMOLD ON A SERVING DISH AND SERVE.
-FROM "THE FINE ART OF ITALIAN COOKING"
BY GIULIANO BUGIALLI CAPTION: Pictures 1 through 9, no caption