Riso al Forno (Oven-baked Rice)

In many countries, and Italy is not an exception, the traditional cuisine can be divided into two categories: cucina povera, or the food of the poor, and cucina riccha, the food, which only the rich could afford. In the case of Italy, ironically enough, the poor kitchen represented by pasta and pizza, became world-famous and can be found in the most prestigious restaurants nowadays.
Cucina povera shaped with two main factors: a limited number of ingredients, and the desire to use or preserve everything, without leaving a single piece. Clearly, meat was too expensive and what poor could afford were mainly were left-overs or undesirable parts from the tables of the rich. For the same reason, it seemed unreasonable to eat the whole piece they were able to get straight away, so they salted or dried it, which set up the basis for different hams, proscutto, salami. Fish was preserved in the same way (ironically, for many people nowadays baccalà – the salted cod- is affordable only at Christmas). The foundation of the kitchen were cereals and grain-based dishes, such as pasta in the South, polenta and rice in the North and  gnocchi throughout. Another important and valuable component was bread: even when stale, it was never thrown away, but used in salads, like in traditional Tuscan panzanella, for stuffing the vegetables, for covering dishes, or for coating croquettes and other fried dishes. Usually, dishes were garnished with fruits and vegetables, in many cases gathered from the wild. With this scarcity of products, the poor put a lot of attention to the sauces, combination of ingredients, and possible elements to add the flavor – usually local specialities, available so broadly that they seem to have no value. This diligent research made the kitchen of the poor remarkable in its taste, and with centuries it was escalated till the worlds best restaurants. There are still many exceptional dishes, mainly unknown, which may be found only in some small local osterias. 
This dish though will hardly ever enter the menu: despite being delicious, it’s too rustic and messy in its appearance. Well, as the guys from the Australian Masterchef always say: “The most important is the taste”. And I totally agree with them.


Time of preparation: 50 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Rice__________320 grams
Mushrooms____200 grams
Chili Pepper____1
Parmesan Cheese to taste
Scamorza cheese__180 grams
Soy sauce_____8 tablespoons

1. In the large frying pan of wok heat olive oil, sauté chopped onion, add soft chili pepper. Add sliced carrots and 2 tablespoons of soya sauce, fry for 5 minutes, add the chopped champignons or mushrooms you are using with two more tablespoons of soya sauce. When the mushrooms are ready, add diced tomatoes and 2 more tablespoons of soya sauce.
2. In the meanwhile, cook rice in salty water (take 1 glass of rice and two glasses of water). It should remain slightly undercooked. Combine rice with vegetables, add scamorza cheese, mix well and transfer everything into a baking dish. Cover with grated parmesan and bake on 200C (400F) for around 30 minutes, or until golden on the top.
Tip: in the original as you can easily guess there was no soya sauce. Nevertheless, it fits in this dish perfectly, and if you want to push it forward a little bit more, you can add 30 grams of grated ginger to vegetables.

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