Arborio rice is a staple in my pantry, but for years I used it sparingly, only hauling it out every once in a while to make risotto. And by “once in a while” I mean once or twice a year. Don’t get me wrong—I love risotto, but my poor arms can handle only so many upper body workouts, and all that stirring can be rather taxing on the biceps.
But in the past year I’ve started cooking with this short-grain Italian rice more often, for several reasons. First of all, it’s easier to prepare than longer-grain kernels, which I often seem to undercook or burn. With the Arborio variety, I just cover the rice with water, simmer it for 15 minutes, and finally drain it for whatever recipe I’m working with. Perhaps best of all, its high-starch content produces a creamy, moist texture that elevates simple dishes to divine.
If you don’t believe me, take a look back at my Easter torta di riso or my stuffed Swiss chard leaves for proof. Or you can try cookbook author Viana La Place’s recipe for Lemony Rice-Parsley Salad that I found in Food & Wine a few months ago. I made it on Friday night, and my winning streak continued: As a dessert or main dish, Arborio rice has yet to fail me.
La Place’s simple salad came together in under half an hour, perfect for a quick and healthy weeknight meal. While the rice cooked on the stovetop, I quickly chopped some parsley and pitted some briny black olives. After draining the cooked rice, I tossed everything together with olive oil, lemon juice, a bit of green pepper, and capers.
It was so easy I almost felt guilty calling it dinner. Luckily this sentiment was fleeting, as Jim and I enjoyed every bite of the supple, silky salad. It simply burst with the flavors of tangy capers, springy parsley, and lemon juice, all enhanced by the creamy texture of the rice and oil-cured olives.
As a result of these rice-related successes, a box of Arborio rice always sits towards the front of my pantry shelves. It is no longer relegated to the back of the cupboard, hiding out until a special occasion risotto dinner. I’m already planning on using it for Mark Bittman’s amazing Paella with Tomatoes later this week. That reminds me, I need to check and make sure that I have enough rice.