Tales from an Ital­ian kitchen

The Guardian - Feast - - Feast - Rachel Roddy

Rice salad – in­salata di riso

Punto Sim­ply, the small su­per­mar­ket on the corner of Pi­azza Tes­tac­cio and Via Bodoni, is a pe­cu­liar shape. It has sev­eral in­ter­con­nect­ing rooms made maze-like by the nar­row aisles and shelves stacked so snugly that you of­ten have to wrig­gle items out in a sort of su­per­mar­ket Jenga. It is air­con­di­tioned, but not ag­gres­sively – or not enough to smother the ripe, in­sis­tent scent of the loose fruit and veg­eta­bles in bas­kets in the corner be­hind the ce­real shelf. The deli counter just off to the left is even fuller than the shelves. Decked with strings of salami bunt­ing, it is as much fair­ground as su­per­mar­ket, with pink rounds of cured pork, domes of soft white cheese, Rus­sian salad, olives, toma­toes, prawns and fish-sticks un­der oil and, next to that, mul­ti­packs of mini Cam­pari so­das and aper­i­tivo snacks.

The lay­out and smells, the pop of the strip light­ing, the fa­mil­iar things – frozen peas, tea, caster sugar – are among things that still, af­ter more than 13 years in Rome, feel for­eign to my eyes: the 19 va­ri­eties of break­fast toasts, five sorts of cherry jam, a wall of pasta shapes and al­most the same of toma­toes, and an en­tire sec­tion of veg­eta­bles pre­served in vine­gar – sott’aceto; or in olive oil – sott’olio; in­clud­ing a ready-mix for rice salad called Condiriso – a diced as­sort­ment of pick­led car­rots, peas, pep­pers, olives and ar­ti­chokes.

From June to Septem­ber there is usu­ally an of­fer on Condiriso, which, ac­cord­ing to fam­ily and friends, be­came pop­u­lar in the 60s, along with Vereco glass­ware and Adri­ano Ce­len­tano, and has re­mained a stan­dard for many ever since.

In her 1969 step-by-step guide to an­tipasti e salse, Lisa Biondi has six ver­sions of in­salata di riso, in­clud­ing fla­menco – with chorizo and omelette, del buongus­taio – with salted tongue and fontina cheese, and sapor­ita – with as­para­gus tips and may­on­naise. Ac­cord­ing to a col­umn in La Cucina Ital­iana mag­a­zine from about the same time, in­salata di riso is par­tic­u­larly good with egg, tuna, pro­sciutto, cheese, peas and – es­sen­tial – pick­led veg­eta­bles. My part­ner’s un­cle – a re­tired chef, who these days would rather be on the beach read­ing thrillers than sim­mer­ing rice – says two things are im­por­tant: that the pro­por­tions of rice to other in­gre­di­ents are 50/50 and that every­thing is mixed to­gether while the rice is still warm.

Along­side the cooked long-grain rice (80g dry weight per per­son), my main com­po­nents, mea­sured by eye, are tuna, white or bor­lotti beans (tinned as they are re­li­ably ten­der), an­chovy fil­lets snipped with scis­sors, ca­pers, olives, vine­gary red pep­pers from a jar, and finely sliced red onion, soaked in half wa­ter/half red-wine vine­gar for 20 min­utes, which gives a nice, vine­gary rasp.

If the tuna and veg­eta­bles do not pro­vide enough olive oil, add more un­til you have a united tum­ble. Black pep­per is es­sen­tial, as is lemon juice and quar­tered, hard-boiled eggs on top. The ef­fect should be as colour­ful, busy and as good as the deli counter at Punto Sim­ply.

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