Tasty and easy, this Insalata di Riso, Italian Rice salad, was a summer staple growing up. Lovely al dente rice mixed with fresh and canned veggies, tuna and eggs. It is lightly dressed with evo oil, salt, pepper, and a touch of lemon.
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Tasty Italian summer staple
One of my mother's recurrent dishes in the summer was "Insalata di riso", a cold rice salad. She would prepare it with a mix of fresh veggies, cubes of mozzarella, and a can of tuna packed in olive oil.
Every household in Italy has its own version. My aunt, for example, always mixes in a jar of "giardiniera" and she would add slices of "wurstels" (wieners). Very different from my mom's version, she would also dress it with some mayonnaise.
A cold rice salad
In brief, you can make Insalata di riso in advance, and store it in the fridge. For that reason, it is perfect to bring to outdoor picnics, backyard gatherings, or simply a packed lunch for work. For us, we would bring it to picnics in the countryside, or to the beach, to eat under the big umbrella.
Indeed, the main ingredient of Insalata di riso is rice, which can be Arborio or Carnaroli. We prefer Carnaroli, the same we use to make risotto.
As for the add-ins, I tried to make it as close to my mom's as possible. Our choice was:
- fresh and canned veggies: peas, green beans, tomatoes, corn, olives, artichoke hearts
- cheese: firm mozzarella (you can use Gruyère, provola, fontina)
- protein: tuna, and eggs (often you see cubed ham, and slices of wurstels/wieners)
If you use fresh veggies, there are a few steps involved.
- Cook the rice in boiling salted water for about 15 minutes, or according to the time on the package. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking time. Leave rice in strainer to drain well, then place in a large bowl and set aside.
- Boil the eggs, peas and the green beans.
- Open the can of tuna, discard the oil. Dress the quartered cherry tomatoes with a little oil, salt and pepper. Cut the olives into rounds, drain the corn, cut the artichoke hearts in slivers and finally the mozzarella into cubes.
- Add all the veggies and the mozzarella in a large bowl. Stir well.
- In the bowl with the rice, add the tuna and mix it in. After, add the veggies/mozzarella, and stir well.
- Cover with plastic wrap. Set in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour, along with the eggs in a separate container. When ready to serve, drizzle in evo oil, and if you want, a squeeze of lemon juice and some basil leaves. Optional, a tablespoon of mayonnaise. Place the eggs gently on top, sprinkle black pepper, and serve.
Indeed, for a quick and tasty Insalata di riso, you can use "giardiniera", the Italian pickled vegetables in a jar, and add tuna or ham, eggs, and cheese. Basically, take any of your favorites and make it your own. As for the rice, it would also work with brown or wild rice.
Insalata di riso presents really well. The colors and textures evoke joyfulness, and playfulness, all things that remind us of those warm summer months. Bring it to the picnic or to the table nicely arranged in the bowl and watch as people are so enticed to dig in.
How to store it
You can keep any lefotvers in an airtight container for 2-3 days in the fridge. If you want to make it ahead, do it the night before and do not dress it until you are ready to serve. Leave the eggs whole, if using, slice and place on top just before serving.
What is wonderful about this salad is the play on texture between the rice and the veggies and the flavors balance well with the use of the olive oil, basil, and lemon. So light and fresh, it is perfect for summer.