Past Risotto

Rice fields in Vercelli

IT WAS A DREAM come true for Chef John Coletta. Last year, the Italian rice recipes that Coletta has collected and developed over a lifetime turned into a beautiful cookbook that won first place in the Italian category and second place in the rice category in the 2019 Gourmand International Cookbook competition. Risotto & Beyond, published by Rizzoli, contains 100 of Coletta’s rice recipes tested by Monica Kass Rogers and then written with chapters on rice varieties, history and culture. The book takes readers and home cooks on a journey through Italy.

Coletta, founding chef and partner of Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar in Chicago, is a firm believer in the beauty of Italian rice. “From antipasti to soups, salads, risotto to stews and desserts, the possibilities for Italian rice are almost unlimited,” says Coletta.

“Researching, writing, and testing all of John’s authentic Italian rice recipes was a fantastic adventure,” says Kass Rogers, an Evanston-based writer, food stylist, and photographer who contributes frequently to Forest & Bluff. “John is world famous for his cuisine, and Nancy Ross Ryan – who started the project with John – was my first mentor for food writing. When she died, making John’s dream project a reality was a must. “

Kass Rogers traveled to the Po Valley, where rice has been grown in Italy for half a millennium, and photographed the rice fields and working-class neighborhoods for the book. He interviewed families, farmers, travel experts and cooks who love rice there for the book essays.

“Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe, but almost nobody here knows that,” she says. “The history of Italian rice is fascinating and is included in the book along with the text on the many varieties and their best uses. There’s so much more you can do with Italian rice than risotto! With this book, John wanted to change that. “

Each of the recipes in the book contain Coletta’s personal stories and anecdotes. There are stories of rice snacks and soups Coletta’s Italian mother made when he grew up in Queens, accounts of stews he learned from women who worked in the rice fields, and memories of gourmet preparations he perfected when he worked with chefs across the country.

“My personal favorite story from John is his memory of Castelluccio lentils, which are in a rice soup recipe and a recipe for stuffed pepper in the book,” says Kass Rogers. “Just as the southerners fortunately eat black-eyed peas here on New Year’s Day, the people in Italy eat lentils. John recalls how his mom made so many lenses in the first few weeks of January that he eventually complained, “Mom, how lucky do we need?”

Rice workers’ living quarters

Risotto and Beyond includes a section of recommended Italian pantry ingredients, along with recipe guidelines and equipment to help home cooks successfully navigate the recipes. Each chapter begins with a relevant essay, and to enhance enjoyment, each recipe includes a wine recommendation from sommelier Tory O’Haire.

“Everyone asks me what my favorite recipe in the book is and it’s so hard to choose! I love the no-bake sweet rice “souffle” with raspberry sauce, and the rice crespelle – small, flashy love affairs – are a fantastic, gluten-free alternative to crepes, ”says Kass Rogers. “But when we return to cooler weather, I made the risotto-filled braciole, which is delicious!”

To purchase a copy of Risotto and Beyond, please visit

BROTHERS, LITTLE BUNDLES Poultry, beef or pork stuffed with fillings are a specialty in southern Italy. For centuries, inexpensive pieces of meat have been beaten flat, salted and peppered, stuffed and braised in tomato sauce for centuries. By using a special risotto filling like the one I have here, these rolls become the main course. It will take you some time and tender care to prepare, but the result is well worth it. This recipe with raisins and pine nuts in a rich tomato sauce is one of my favorites: a new take on an old southern Italian classic.

Wine Pairing: When raisins are used in a hearty dish, Ripasso Valpolicella from Veneto makes a delicious wine pairing. And in this dish, Ripasso – a pale, extracted wine resembling an Amarone baby – reflects the sweetness of the raisins and the hearty flavors of the cheese and onions, while also supporting the weight of the braised pork.

Braised pork buns with pine nut and raisin risotto PHOTOGRAPHY BY MONICA KASS ROGERS / RECIPE BY JOHN COLETTA

Braised pork rolls with pine nuts and raisin risotto

(Filled Maile Chops with Raisin and Raisin Rice)

6 to 8 servings

For risotto:

  • 4 cups vegetable broth (see page 66 in the book or use low-sodium vegetable broth)
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • Two slices of medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped to make half a cup
  • Finely ground sea salt and white pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups of Arborio or Carnaroli Superfino rice
  • 1/3 cup dry Italian white wine
  • 1 1/2 ounces pecorino romano, finely grated to make 3/4 cup
  • 2/3 cup dark raisins
  • 2/3 cup of golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts

For brothers:

  • 12 to 16 slices of pork shoulder, 2 to 3 ounces each, pounded to 1/4-inch thick
  • 12 to 16 thin butcher or baker threads (two to three feet each; see note)
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup dry Italian white wine
  • 1 24-ounce bottle of Italian tomato puree (passata)

Make the risotto:

In a medium sauce pan or saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a slow simmer.

In a medium-heavy sauce pan or pan with a depth of at least 5 cm (with a handy lid), mix the olive oil and onion over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent but not browned. If necessary, add 2 tablespoons of water to soften the onions without browning them. Just make sure the water has evaporated before moving on to the next step. Season with salt and white pepper.

Add rice and stir for two minutes until the grains are well covered. Pour in the wine and stir until the wine has evaporated. Add half a cup of boiling broth to the rice and reduce by two thirds. Add another ladle full and stir again until the broth is reduced by two thirds. Repeat this process until most of the broth has been absorbed by the rice. This should take about 14 minutes from the time you start adding the broth to the rice. At this point, rice should be tender, but not mushy, and have a creamy consistency. (You may have up to a cup of broth unused.)

Remove the risotto from the heat and cover the saucepan for two minutes. Remove the lid and add cheese, dark and golden raisins, and pine nuts, stirring until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

Do the Braciole:

Spread a sheet of parchment paper on a clean work surface. Place the pork slices on the parchment paper with the widest ends facing up. Scoop a round tablespoon of risotto onto the wide end of each slice.

Carefully tuck in and fold, roll to the narrow end of the disc until you are done with a small bundle. Take a piece of string in one hand and wrap the string around the bundle, holding it in place with the other hand to make sure the filling is enclosed as much as possible, and tie the loose ends of the string together if you can are done. Repeat with the remaining pork slices and filling.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil on the stove in a heavy ovenproof pan with a lid or in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Put the braciole in a pan and fry on all sides. Reduce the heat, pour in the wine and simmer until the wine has halved. Add the tomato puree and take it off the heat.

Cover the pan or Dutch oven and cook for 45 minutes. Let cool slightly. Remove the string from the braciole. Serve each bundle whole or in slices into several round pieces and fan them on serving plates. Top each serving with a little tomato sauce.

Note: Make sure you pre-cut your lengths of string and make them very long – two to three feet of string per bundle isn’t too much. Using extra twine makes shaping the bundles a little easier, and you’ll be removing the twine before serving the braciole.

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