Insalata di Riso
As summer approaches I find myself turning more to food that anticipates the season; dishes that are easy to prepare, requiring no oven to be turned on, and that stimulate the appetite even as the days grow warmer. Insalata di Riso is one such recipe, a classic Italian dish to bring on a picnic in the mountains or on the beach, or to enjoy on your own terrace at lunchtime.
This particular version is based on a dish that my Zia Gilda, my mother’s eldest sister, used to make every summer. Gilda was a person who loved fine things, like Bruno Magli shoes and Luisa Spagnoli dresses. But she was also modest, and the styles she chose were simple and classic. It was the same with her cooking; the food she prepared was always simple, unadorned home fare. But she used best-quality ingredients, and whatever she made was always delicious.
Gilda passed away nearly three decades ago, never having written down her recipes, but with my sister’s help I managed to recreate her recipe to the best of my memory. Of course, insalata di riso is one of those appealingly versatile dishes that you can tailor to your suit your own tastes. Don’t care for tuna? Try tiny cooked shrimp instead. Or dice up some melanzane or zucchine sott’olio and add those to the mix of pickled vegetables blended in. During sweet corn season in the U.S., I cut cooked kernels off the cob and fold those in as well.
Yield: 4 to 6 main-course servings; 10-12 appetizer or side dish servings
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and pour in the rice. When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook at a gentle simmer for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is al dente (tender but still a bit firm and not at all mushy). Drain the rice in a colander set in the sink and rinse under cold water. Drain thoroughly and transfer to a large bowl. Toss the rice with the olive oil. Add the tuna and a little of the oil from the tin or jar, two of the eggs, the anchovies, giardiniera, peppers, olives, onions, artichoke hearts, peas, parsley, and capers. Gently mix together. Add lemon juice and mayonnaise and gently fold everything together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the rice salad into a serving bowl and arrange the remaining egg slices on top in a decorative pattern. Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time. Remove it from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving to take the chill off.