Summer in Italy for me means Riso Freddo. Cold Rice. “Cold Rice” doesn’t sound too appealing in English, does it? It sounds far more exotic when I say it out loud in Italian “Welcome to my home! Have some Riso Freddo for dinner in this hot July evening! Let’s dine al fresco!” but in English “Yo! Are you hungry? Here’s some cold rice”. It doesn’t work.
I also cannot find the inspiration to write about cold rice but I could potentially be a little more poetic about Riso Freddo. I could tell you about how Ma made it on repeat when the heat of summer hit Italy and about how clever it was of her because she worked full time and making a big bowl of the stuff in advance meant she could feed both Pa and me without much effort after a long day in the office. I could tell you about spending my day sneaking spoonful after spoonful out of the bowl and trying to smooth the rice down so that she would not notice the gaping holes I left behind with each visit. I could tell you how I specifically tried to fish out the pieces of mortadella and tomato, that I’d layer them with a basil leaf plucked straight from the plant and swallowed it all whilst telling myself that would be the last I ate until dinner time. I could tell you that I was obviously lying and that 5 minutes later I’d be back. I could tell you about my dislike for large quantities of mayo and of how Ma then decided to substitute it with yogurt (much better) going against local tradition. I could tell you that she is Panamenian and therefore has nothing to justify to local tradition. I could tell you that I love the tang and cooling feeling a mouthful of her riso freddo provided me with when at 5 in the afternoon the sun still felt nowhere near going down and the only respite I could get was from standing in front of the open fridge. I could tell you that its ingredients are so simple yet so satisfying that it’s the first dish I rush to make the moment warmth kisses England. I could tell you that you can make it with pickled vegetables out of a jar or with fresh vegetables or with a mixture. I could tell you that it doesn’t matter as long as you love it. I could also tell you that you can replace mortadella with hotdogs. I could tell you that it actually works really well and that if we can’t get good quality mortadella both Ma and I use hotdogs. I could tell you, again, that it doesn’t matter as long as you love it.
I could tell you all those things but instead I will tell you that here is the recipe and that you should try it for yourself and imagine my parents and me sitting on the balcony swatting away mosquitoes and telling each other about our days whilst piling more and more riso freddo on our plates. The village descending into its nightly calm. The breeze blowing in light from the hills. That is a better plan.
250gr brown basmati rice
85gr mortadella finely diced
40gr provolone cheese finely diced
120gr raw courgette finely diced
60gr artichoke hearts (the ones from the jar) roughly chopped
20gr cocktail onions roughly chopped
115gr cherry tomatoes finely diced
10gr fresh basil roughly chopped
120ml natural greek yogurt
15ml red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the rice to packet instructions ensuring it maintains some of its crunch.
Let cool to room temperature.
Mix the rice with all other ingredients in a big salad bowl.
Cover and let rest in the fridge for at least a couple of hours (better if overnight).
Take out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before serving.