Friday, March 07, 2008

A Delightful Risotto.

March 7

The Pall Mall Gazette mentioned “a useful description of how to cook risotto, a delightful dish too rarely seen in England” on this day in 1885. Rice had been imported into England and used in a myriad dishes since the fourteenth century, but never in this way. Certainly it was the starchy base that, along with chicken meat, made the the original ‘blanc manger’ (‘white eat’) of medieval times, and later it became the inevitable accompaniment to ‘curry’, but apart from in the rice pudding much beloved of Englishmen, rice was rarely a star in English cuisine.

The first published English recipe for risotto (as far as I can find) had already appeared in Eliza Acton’s classic Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845), and we have met it before (along with some other fine old rice recipes): it is for a Risotto Milanese. Were the editors of the Pall Mall Gazette behind the times, or did the popular book fail to popularise the dish?

It is always fascinating to see how a 'foreign' dish is taken up and adapted elsewhere. I wondered how America, with its much larger contingent of Italians, interpreted risotto? This is how one non-Italian, dietitian-cookbook writer did it in her book pertaining to food ‘of the foreign born’:

1 cup rice
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups tomatoes
1 cup stock
This may be the means of using up any bits of meat that the housekeeper has on hand, or it may be made with cheese and tomato only. Wash one cup of rice and turn it into a frying pan containing two tablespoons of melted butter. Stir over a moderate heat until it begins to take on a golden tinge, and then add two cups of canned tomatoes, which have been pressed through a sieve, and one cup of strained stock. Cover and cook slowly until the rice is tender and has absorbed nearly all the liquid, which will take about forty minutes. When half done add salt and paprika to taste. If necessary to stir, use a fork, so as not to break the grains. Just before removing from the fire add a tablespoon of butter, cut in bits, and half a cup of grated cheese. Half a cup of any minced meat or poultry can be substituted for the cheese, both ham and sausage being particularly good.
[Foods of the Foreign-Born in Relation to Health. Bertha M.Wood. 1922]

This is how the idea was interpreted by someone who sounds like she is from a real Italian migrant family.

Risotto With Lobster
(Risotto con gamberi)

For this risotto either lobster or crab meat can be used: the former is, however, considered more tasty. The lobster or crab meat ought to be about half the weight of the rice employed. A little more than a pound of rice and half this weight of crab meat ought to be enough for six persons.
Chop fine a sprig of parsley, a stalk of celery, one carrot, half an onion a clove of garlic and brown the whole in good olive oil. When browned, add the crab meat and season with salt and pepper. During the cooking process stir and turn over the crabs, and when they have become red, pour over as much hot water as is necessary to cook the rice.
After the water boils for a while, remove the lobster (or crab, or craw-fish) leaving the saucepan on the fire. Put half of the crabs aside, and grind the rest. Rub the ground meat through the sieve and put it back on the fire. In another saucepan melt some butter and put into it little by little the rice that has been washed and dried. Stir and add the broth from the first saucepan. When the rice is almost cooked add the craw-fish that you have put aside, or rather its meat extracted from the shells, take from the fire and pour over it the fish mixture, adding some grated cheese.
[The Italian Cook Book …Maria Gentile. 1919c.]

Monday’s Story …

Mathematician’s Alert:
Next week we will have a week of Pies, because it is Pi week.

Quotation for the Day …

(On the Italians) They eat the dainty food of gamous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman's octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach." Luigi Barzini, founder of Il Globo, in The Italians, 1964


Lidian said...

Fascinating post - as usual. I had no idea that the English knew or cared about risotto in 1845!

Lauren said...

I am extremely impressed. I've been pondering how risotto became so prevalent in British cookery for weeks, and in the midst of posting my latest recipe, googled "risotto in england" and found this! How did you ever figure it out? How does one go about researching when a food was adopted by a country when it's something as low-profile as risotto? I'm linking to your blog - you are too good.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello LV
Thankyou for finding me and enjoying my stories. I've been "doing" food history for a long time, and have a lot of resources at my fingertips - I guess that is a part answer to "how do you figure it out?" It is fun, that's for sure.