10 Italian Rice Dishes You Can’t Miss

From north to south, here are Italy’s best regional rice recipes.
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It’s no secret that Italy is famous for crafting the world’s most exquisite pastas. This is made possible by endless acres of golden wheat fields that cover the Italian countryside. But the terrain of the Po Valley allows another grain to grow abundantly: rice. In fact, it may come as a surprise to many, but Italy happens to be Europe’s leading rice producer!

An ingredient not native to Italy, its precise arrival in the country is unknown. Many believe the Arabs brought it to Sicily in the 10th century, while others credit the Spanish for introducing it during the Middle Ages. And while some may never agree on its origins, we can affirm that it was embraced by chefs with open arms.

Join me as I take you on a culinary journey of some of Italy’s finest rice dishes. I bet you’ll see Italian cuisine in a different light and want to give these delights a try!

Arancini

three arancini on a colorful plate
Instagram/@sicilianicreativi

Despite being a dainty appetizer, arancini are enormously popular. They were born in Sicily during Arab rule of the island, which explains the use of saffron in many preparations. Arancini means little oranges, which is the shape that leftover risotto is rolled into. These fried rice balls are usually filled with traditional meat ragù, peas, and mozzarella. Then they’re rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried, giving them a crispy exterior.

Many don’t know that there is a Roman cousin of this Sicilian recipe, known as supplì. Larger and more oval in shape, they are only filled with mozzarella, resulting in gooey goodness. My suggestion would be to try both, as neither one will disappoint!

See More: A Complete Guide To Sicilian Food

Risotto

A bowl of bright yellow risotto on top of a table with a red gingham pattern and a glass of red wine nearby
Instagram/@italiadamangiare_

Perhaps Italy’s most well-known rice-based dish, risotto is the darling of northern menus. It’s sure to make an appearance in the most posh restaurants to the humblest of osterias. In fact, risotto is as popular as pasta in the north. And like most pasta dishes, there are countless ways to dress this grain. A popular rendition in the autumn months is risotto alla zucca. Using squash, a seasonal ingredient, lends the dish its vibrant orange color.

Many view risotto as a gluten-free replacement for pasta as a primo. But in busy Milan, where locals are short on time, the dish has been adapted to merge the two courses. Risotto con l’ossobuco is the marriage of risotto alla milanese with braised veal shank. You could consider this to be the Milanese version of mac and cheese, the perfect comfort food. A visit to Milan would almost be incomplete without sampling this local delicacy.

Tiella Pugliese

Instagram/@lacucinaitaliana

Considered by some to be an Italian version of paella, this dish native to Puglia is far simpler to prepare. It was once a peasant’s meal served at the end of a long day working in the fields. And while there’s some debate on whether to use arborio or carnaroli rice, there’s no denying that this dish is tasty regardless of which is used.

Though it’s now served any time, it has become a summertime favorite, especially in Bari. The tiella is made by layering potatoes, rice, mussels, tomatoes, pecorino cheese, and breadcrumbs. The casserole is then baked in the oven for an hour. Serve with your favorite white wine and this will surely become a hit.

See More: 10 Foods You Need To Try In Puglia

Budino di Riso

A plate of 7 budino treats with powdered sugar sprinkled on top
Instagram/@aifornellipercaso

Born in Tuscany, this sweet treat has several renditions. The word budino means pudding in Italian, and the original version from Siena was in fact a rice pudding. A mixture of milk, rice, sugar, and eggs was cooked together and served as a dessert. Eventually, it made its way to Florence, where culinary masters elevated it into a popular breakfast pastry. A short pastry crust is filled with the rice pudding and then baked in the oven. Once cooled, they’re dusted with confectioners’ sugar and ready to be devoured!

See More: 11 Foods You Need To Try In Tuscany

Sartù di Riso

Sartú di riso served on a white table with a flower pattern
Instagram/@soniaperonaci

This classic Neapolitan dish is often served on special occasions such as Easter. Emerging in the 18th century from the royal court of Maria Carolina of Austria, preparing this dish requires patience. A bundt pan lined with breadcrumbs is filled with cooked arborio rice. The rice is then pressed against the walls of the pan to create a canal. It’s filled with the traditional ragù napoletano, miniature meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and peas. After baking in the oven, it’s flipped and removed from its mold. It offers both crowd-pleasing presentation and ample flavor, sure to delight every palate.

See More: 24-Hour Food Guide to Naples

Pomodori Ripieni di Riso

A red bowl filled with Pomodori Ripieni di Riso, a tomato-based rice dish, on top of a wooden table next to whole tomatoes.
Instagram/@loredana_de_luca

Originating from Rome, this dish is both vegetarian and gluten-free, making it a great option for many! Tomatoes are hollowed out and their pulp is blended into a light sauce. Then a mixture of arborio rice, pecorino cheese, garlic, and herbs is added to this sauce. Finally, the tomatoes are filled with this stuffing mixture and baked. It may seem like a simple meal, perhaps even boring to some, but rest assured that you will be reaching for seconds! These are packed with flavor and will definitely become a favorite on your table!

See More: 9 Naturally Gluten-Free Dishes You Need To Try In Italy

Risi e Bisi

Two bowls of risi e bisi, a dish made up of rice and peas.
Instagram/@julietaoriolo

Best described as a cross between a risotto and a soup, risi e bisi is a classic comfort food of the Veneto region. There is some debate surrounding the precise geographic origin of the dish, with some suggesting it came from Slovenia or Istria. It’s made with a few simple, yet nourishing, ingredients. While the obvious protagonists are rice and peas, it’s crucial that one uses vialone nano rice, which is a starchier variety. Today many chefs are modifying the original recipe through the addition of ingredients like pancetta or prawns.

Torta degli Addobbi

Two burgundy-colored plates full of slices of Torta degli Addobbi with sugar sprinkled on top
Instagram/@tortelliniandco

While considered a variation of rice pudding, Torta degli Addobbi is more of a rice and almond cake, as its name suggests. It was born out of Bologna in the 15th century in honor of a local religious festival. This delectable treat begins with arborio rice slowly cooked in a mixture of milk, sugar, eggs, and citrus peels. Next, chopped almonds, ground amaretti biscuits, candied citron, and amaretto liqueur are added to the mixture. Then the mixture is baked in the oven until golden brown.

Once baked, it’s brushed with amaretto liqueur, which helps to balance out the cake’s natural decadence. This is by no means your traditional rice pudding and you’re certainly not going to want to pass up on it. If you get the chance to visit Emilia-Romagna around the Easter period, be sure to give it a try!

See More: Bologna Is The Best Place To Live In Italy — Here’s Why

Insalata di Riso

Two bowls of Insalata di riso on top of a bright green tablecloth with two decorative eggs and garnish nearby.
Instagram/@profumo_di_limoni

This rice salad is a summertime favorite in Italy for picnic lunches at the beach. But make no mistake, this robust meal is no ordinary light salad. It’s served cold with any sort of giardiniera (pickled vegetables) like peppers, olives, artichokes, eggplants, and more. The addition of a protein makes it more substantial, whether it be provolone cheese, boiled eggs, prosciutto, or tuna. It’s a really flexible dish that can accommodate all diets, whether you’re gluten-free or vegetarian. Nothing screams Italian summer more than a large bowl of insalata di riso under a beach umbrella.

See More: Why Italian Beach Bars Are Simply The Best

Frittelle di San Giuseppe

A plate serving a small mountain of Frittelle di San Giuseppe, on a blue tablecloth with baskets of fruit and other ingredients against a blue wall in the background.
©Sonia Peronaci

Frittelle di San Giuseppe is a popular treat in Tuscany for Carnival and Father’s Day. Its name references St. Joseph, whose feast day happens to fall on the same day as Father’s Day in Italy. Some chefs add marsala, Vin Santo, rum, raisins, or orange zest to add complexity to this sweet. Despite the many variations throughout the region, all recipes begin by cooking rice in a mixture of milk and sugar. After it’s cooked and cooled, flour and eggs are added to help form the mixture before frying. Once fried, they’re sprinkled with sugar and served warm. This is an absolute must-try! 

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