ITALIAN COOKING AND RECIPES

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ITALIAN RICE AND GRAINS

POLENTA

A kind of cornmeal, polenta is a staple in northern Italy.

There, it is available in an astonishing range of degrees of coarseness, but elsewhere there are two main types — coarse and fine. It is boiled to make a kind of porridge and can then be cooled and left to set, before being grilled (broiled), fried or baked.

 It is very versatile and can be used for both savoury and sweet dishes. Traditionally, polenta was cooked in a large copper pan and had to be stirred for at least 1 hour.

Nowadays, quick-cook polenta is available.


RICE

Italy produces a wide range of types of rice in greater quantities than any other European country.

Superfine rice is a round grain type used for risottos. It can absorb a large amount of liquid, swelling to three times its size during cooking, while still retaining its shape and texture.

This is what gives the dish its unique and characteristic creaminess. Carnaroli, arborio and vialone nano are especially fine varieties.

Semifino rice is used for soups and salads. Italians never serve food on a bed of rice, but may sometimes serve plain boiled rice with butter and cheese as a separate dish.


OLIVE OIL


Arguably the best olive oil in the world comes from Italy and each region produces an oil with a different flavour.

The oil is made by pressing the pulp of ripe olives. The first pressing, with no additional processing, produces extra virgin olive oil.

This is the highest quality and is carefully regulated. It is the best oil to use for salad dressings.

The next quality, virgin olive oil, may also be used for dressings and is good for cooking. It has slightly higher level of acidity than extra virgin, but still has a good flavour.

Other types of olive oil are usually refined and may have been heat-treated.

They can be used for cooking, but should not be used in dressings.