From risotto to Sartù and arancine, rice in Milan, Naples, Palermo and Catania

From risotto to Sartù and arancine, rice in Milan, Naples, Palermo and Catania

From risottos to Sartù and arancine, recipes that love the same cereal: rice. From Asia to Italy, through the Serenissima Venice, first the Lombards fell in love with it, then the Piedmontese and then the Venetians, while thanks to the Arabs and the Aragonese Kingdom of Naples, it also convinced southerners. A product that was  initially used as medicine. Then, thanks to the Medici family (1468), cultivation became stable and productive. The Sforza family (1436 and 1494) in Milan and surrounding areas, supported the rice fields and banned rice exports. In the South, it was agronomist philosopher Simone Porta (1496 – 1554) who wrote about rice in Paestum and other places in the Salerno area.


Risotto Milanese style

In Milan, legend has it that the first saffron risotto in history was prepared in 1574, at the wedding of the daughter of the glassmaker, Valerio di Fiandra. The man was an artisan who was working on the decoration of the windows of the Duomo of Milan and one of his collaborators, known as Saffron for his constant use of the spice in mixing colours, surprised him by using it in the kitchen on the day of the young woman’s wedding banquet. Since then, the yellow rice which became Risotto alla Milanese has been a symbol of Milanese cuisine. Over the centuries, from boiled rice, then seasoned with saffron, it became, in 1779, rice sautéed and mixed with the spice. Risotto is increasingly a traditional Milanese dish. So much so that, in 2007, the Municipality of Milan codified the recipe with a municipal resolution that gave this dish a municipal name. The rice must be cooked in broth, beef fat, minced ox marrow and butter and then mixed with the yellow spice.


Sartù, one of the symbolic recipes of Naples

One of the typical dishes of Neapolitan cuisine had to wait until the 18th century to be included in court cookbooks. From Vincenzo Corrado to Ippoliti Cavalcanti, rice is the fundamental ingredient of a multi-layered dish. It is so both because it is rich in ingredients and because what is good must also be beautiful and therefore it must be shown. To show it, something majestic must be made. The great chefs of Naples had understood that rice because of its ductility could be used for extraordinary dishes. Among these was the great Ippolito Cavalcanti who made it an emblem of royal cuisine.

“Cook the rice in broth, and then cool it, bind it with grated Parmigiano cheese, egg yolks and a few egg whites, and form a paste, which will be rolled out like a large sheet of pastry and placed in a casserole greased with lard and dusted with breadcrumbs; stuff it with a ragout of sweetbreads, seasoned with truffles, blackthorns and aromatic herbs; cover with the rice paste and bake in the oven. Once cooked, the Sortù will be served hot”. This ws the recipe that Theoretical-Practical Cuisine in 1852 consigned to Italian and international culinary history.

Arancine (Palermo) and arancini (Catania)


Perhaps inspired by citrus fruits, Sicilians eat rice in round shapes, whose golden colour would make them look like oranges or similar fruits. In this part of Italy it was certainly the Arabs who introduced rice and had it used first as medicine and then as food. It was the Sicilian-Italian Dictionary by Giuseppe Biundi (1857) that provided us with important explanations: aranciu is “a sweet food made in the shape of a melarancio”.  So, a sweet in the shape of a fruit. In 1894, there is reference to another fruit, namely that the “rice arancine are each as big as a melon”. The quotation is found in the book I Viceré by Federico De Roberto. So, in fairly recent times, this ‘dessert’ became a savoury and very tasty food with many varieties and compositions.

Sabina Castelfranco

Radio and Television Journalist with 30 years of experience as a Correspondent and Producer, Sabina Castelfranco was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in Italy, Spain and America and graduated at the London School of Economics. After passing the Italian State exam as a professional journalist, she became a reporter for Vatican Radio, CBS Radio and Voice of America among others. Since 1998 she works as a producer for CBS 60 Minutes and freelances for all major American, British and Australian networks.

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