I was given some really lovely and thoughtful presents for Christmas. Unsurprisingly, there are always a few foodie things and one exciting one was a box of Seggiano’s black rice. This was given to me by my daughter’s in-laws, Janet and Colin. This organic black Nerone rice was developed from an ancient Chinese variety (it tells me on the box!), known as ‘forbidden rice’ as it was cultivated for the exclusive enjoyment of the Chinese Emperor and nobility. Now it is grown in the Po Valley in Piemonte, Italy’s most famous rice-growing area. It is processed using a traditional stone husking method, which as well producing a wonderfully nutty taste also preserves its nutrients, making it a healthy rice choice.
I felt I wanted to do something a bit more adventurous than just make one of my regular risottos with it, so I googled ‘black rice’ and found this great recipe, which is actually in a book of Jamie Oliver’s I have, Jamie Cooks Italy. I dug out the book from my book shelves and was soon gathering ingredients. I made some fresh chicken stock (which I’d been meaning to do for a while) and bought pears. I couldn’t find Italian Gorgonzola cheese, which Jamie uses, in local shops this morning so settled on French Saint Agur, which is similarly rich and creamy, though perhaps a little more salty. I couldn’t bring myself to open the expensive bottle of Barbera d’Asti wine (as specified in Jamie’s recipe) that’s sitting on my wine rack when no one was here to share it with me, so I settled on adding some of the Rioja I opened last night. Jamie’s recipe serves 4 and I thought at first I’d just halve it and save half for tomorrow. But heating up a risotto the next night?? No. In the end, I quartered (roughly) the recipe and made enough just for me tonight!
One of the big differences to a ‘normal’ risotto is that you pour all the stock in in one go, rather than a little at a time with constant stirring. I actually rather like the usual stirring, finding it relaxing – especially with a glass of wine to hand and good music in the background! – but it’s definitely an easier option to just pour in the stock at the beginning and leave to simmer. Jamie suggests an hour of simmering but the instructions on the pack said 35-40 minutes, so I guess it varies according to the make of rice. He says you should check occasionally to make sure it isn’t sticking and add more stock or water if it’s drying out but the rice still needs more cooking time. In the end, I found I had too much liquid. I’d thought it sounded a lot but then the cooking time was long … so perhaps it would be okay. Though Seggiano suggest 2-3 times the volume of liquid, which was a lot less than the recipe. There was still a lot left once the rice was tender, so I boiled it hard with the lid off to reduce the liquid down until I had a risotto-type consistency. Next time I’ll use less liquid and only add more if needed.
I’m giving my recipe for chicken stock as I made it today, but just use what you have – a stock cube if you like, or vegetable stock – though I make this regularly and store in the freezer as large stock cubes so I can take out exactly what I want any time. I pour the cooled stock into an ice-cube tray – fairly large cubes – and then tip into a large freezer bag as they freeze to store.
Black Rice with Roasted Pears, Thyme & Soft Blue Cheese
- ½ litre stock (see above and don’t add all to start)
- 1 small onion or shallot, finely chopped
- ½ stick celery, finely chopped
- extra virgin olive oil
- 75g black rice
- 35ml red wine
- sea salt and black pepper
- 1 pear, quartered and cored
- small bunch fresh thyme
- knob butter
- about 12g Parmesan
- about 25g soft blue cheese (e.g. St Agur; Gorgonzola)
- 4 organic chicken drumsticks
- a little olive oil
- 1 small onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stick celery
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- sea salt
- parsley stalks (if you have some)
I used to make chicken stock a lot from the carcass of a chicken from a Sunday roast, but we rarely have them now so I’ve taken to buying a pack of organic chicken drumsticks and using those instead. They only cost about £3 and I can make a big pan of chicken stock from them.
I like to colour the chicken a little first, so put a dash of olive oil in the pan over a medium heat, turn the drumsticks in the hot oil until just colouring. Then add the rest of the ingredients and cover in cold water. I use a big Le Creuset pan and top up almost to the top; the level of liquid will reduce as the stock cooks. Bring to the boil and then simmer over a very low heat – with the lid on – for 2-3 hours. Once cool, strain into jugs and use some immediately if you want and freeze the rest, either in cubes as described above, or in freezer bags or containers.
I made the stock earlier in the day. Once ready to start cooking the rice dish, bring all your ingredients together.
Jamie gets his rice cooking first, but as I wasn’t sure if mine would take an hour, I got the pears into the oven first. Put the quarters in a small ovenproof dish, coat with a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle over a little sea salt and lay the fresh thyme on top. Cook in a 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4 oven for about 40 minutes. I turned mine a couple of times to prevent burning and to colour evenly.
To cook the rice: soften the onion or shallot with the celery in a little olive oil. Add the rice and stir well to coat the rice for a couple of minutes.
Pour in the red wine. Let it bubble up and once it has been absorbed, pour in the stock (use vegetable stock if you want this to be a vegetarian dish).
Stir, bring to the boil and then turn down to a slow simmer. As described above, Jamie suggests simmering for an hour, but mine didn’t take that long, so do check from time to time. Just take a couple of grains of rice on a fork and check for ‘doneness’. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. I didn’t add early as my stock was salted, so I needed to be careful about how much extra salt I added.
Once the rice is done, the liquid nicely absorbed but leaving a fairly wet mixture, add the knob of butter and grate over the Parmesan. Beat in to encourage the nice creamy texture you want for a risotto.
Transfer the rice to a warm serving plate. Break the cheese into small pieces and dot on top. Lay the roasted pear quarters on top. Decorate with a few of the thyme leaves and drizzle over just a little more olive oil.
Wow! It was fantastic. An amazing flavour and really special. It was quite rich, but inevitably so with the stock and red wine, and the flavour of the black rice was full and nutty – very different to white rice. I’d originally thought about making the dish as a side to some fish (the rice is recommended as an accompaniment to seafood) but this recipe is so rich, and with the pears and blue cheese, it stands on its own. The sweet pears and slightly salty cheese were wonderful accompaniments.
A great thing about a present like this rice is that it makes one adventurous by trying new recipes and finding a great new ingredient. So many thanks to Janet and Colin!