Cooking Rice Sicilian Style
Rice has been cultivated in India, China, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Japan and in all south-east Asia as far
back as 7000 years ago.
In Sanskrit, the classic language of India, the word for rice
translated in Iranian to brizi. When the
rice was introduced to Greece the word changed to
the Romans called it oriza, the
and subsequently to riso
in Italian, arroz
in Spanish, riz
in French and rice
Because rice is a good source of protein it is the staple food for most of South Asia and other parts of the
The high calorie content, over 1500 for every pound, makes rice one of the cheapest food for calorie cost. Because
of the low content of sodium chloride (salt) and because it has only traces of fat, it is recommended in many
Due to the fact that rice has a low salt content, it does not favor the retention of liquids in patients with
kidney problems or high blood pressure and it is also suggested in the diets of heart patients and to people
affected by arteriosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries.
In my family rice was considered not only food but a remedy for many illnesses.
Rice cooked in a broth made with escarole, dandelion or endive was the ideal and only food-medication consumed for
all sorts of inflammation, from the throat to the feet.
The remedy for many sicknesses and the prevention of them was “mangiare in bianco”, literarily meaning “eating in
white”, whose main element was boiled rice prepared without salt and dressed with a few drops of olive oil: it was
plain food, without any acidity, refreshing, easy to digest and suggested in the diets of the very young and of the
For sure it is sought for its…. binding properties and if going on a diet to eliminate toxic substances from our
During the Arab domination of Sicily (827-1060), agriculture was greatly developed. The Arabs improved the
utilization of the island water resources, creating a modern system of irrigation, beneficial to
The cultivation of citrus fruits, new vegetables and most importantly rice was introduced.
The new irrigation system made possible the crop growing of rice, and it was exported to Europe, where this new
staple food was unknown.
It took over 300 years to expand rice farming to the Italian peninsula and subsequently all over
Because rice grows in marshlands and in stagnant waters, it was wrongly believed that it was the cause of the
bubonic plague that effected Italy in the XIV century. This and other imaginary causes slowed the cultivation of
rice in Italy and in Europe until much later.
Towards the end of the XV century rice farming in north Italy was established in the Po River valley because of the
abundance of water and the favorable climate. This area now produces large quantities for domestic use and for
In America, rice was first cultivated in Virginia in 1647 and a few years later in the Carolinas, in Georgia and
Florida. In 1860 rice farming was introduced in California; in 1890 in Mississippi, and than in Arkansas and Texas.
In the XX century rice farming took place in Central and South America and in Australia.
There are over 4000 different varieties of rice, cultivated all over the world and their quality is preferred
according to the characteristics and use.
Although rice is high in protein, it lacks some essential amino acid and in parts of the world where rice is a
staple food, it is combined with beans, nuts or seeds, to produce a balanced and nutritious food without the need
of meat or fish proteins.
Rice is very versatile: it is available puffed, it is processed to become wine or vinegar, oil can be extracted
from its bran, and it can be ground to produce a myriad of edible products.
White rice is obtained by a dual process. First by eliminating the rice seeds from the outer covering of the grain,
a non edible part, making brown rice; then by removing the bran which is the outer cover of the brown rice, white
rice is made.
Brown rice has a short shelf life, becoming rancid after six months; the white rice is polished with talc powder,
glucose or using water to improve its appearance, it has a shelf life of over a year.
Rice is classified by the size of the grain as long, medium or short grain.
As alleged by the name, the long-grain rice is a long and slim grain. It is preferred to make side dishes, in rice
salads and in the presentation of special dishes. It absorbs lot of water, cooks up fluffy and does not stick
The popular Caroline rice and the Basmati rice are long-grain. The Caroline variety takes from 15 to 20 minutes to
cook, few minutes more than the normal 12 minutes.
The Basmati rice is available in white or brown. The most common is the brown, chosen for its nutritive value and
for the high fiber content. Cooked, it has all the characteristics of a long-grain rice and a different strong
flavor with a nutty taste.
The medium-grain rice is the preferred rice in the preparation of risotto and paella.
It cooks in 12 minutes, the soft outer layer absorbs water and releases starch that cooks into a creamy and smooth
product. Some of the Italian rices that are part of this class are Arborio, Vialone Gigante, Vialone Nano, and
The short-grain rice is made-up of round grain. When cooked it releases more starch than the other types, it sticks
together and results in a creamy dish.
It is used by the population using chop sticks, and in Italy the Originario, a short-grain rice, is widely used for
soups- minestre and minestrone- and for croquettes, in sweet preparations and to make the famous rice balls.
There are many other kinds of rice pre or part cooked, converted in which nutrients are added, wild rice, Jasmine
rice to name a few.
Always read the directions on the package, pay attention to the timing, the rinsing instruction and the amount of
liquid to use.
I hope that this brief definition of rice will help you to choose the right type
of rice needed for the your cooking task.