PHOTO BY ROSALIE HARRINGON
Rice salad is delightful on a hot summer day.
By ROSALIE HARRINGTON
Anything worth doing is worth overdoing, especially when it comes to food prep. In other words, when preparing items that can be used for a variety of dishes, cook extra and think about the other meals you might make with them during the week. This allows you to assemble meals more quickly, especially nice in the hot summer weather.
Rice definitely falls into this category. Marie Simmons, in her delightful book “The Amazing World of Rice,” writes “Rice comforts the body, calms the heart and lifts the spirit.” When I make rice, I make a lot of it and for many good reasons: stir-fries, five-minute soups, rice pudding and my favorite – rice salad – are just a few of the endless meals it can contribute to.”
I was lucky enough several years ago to vacation in Sardinia with my Italian cousins, Patrizia and Alba. With the sightseeing, picnics at the beach, siesta after lunch, cocktails before dinner on the patio overlooking the sea, it was one of my most delicious vacations. We learned a lot from living together for a week. Talks about our relationships, our beauty routines, exercise routines and our kids always ended with food.
At breakfast, we usually discussed what we would have for lunch and where to shop for it, and after the last espresso over a lingering lunch, we would consider what we would do for dinner. In between, we would share recipes and stories about … food! This seems to be the way in Italy.
The tomatoes grown in Italy are the best in the world. San Marzano are my favorites. I recall when, as a child, my Nono asked his good friend going on a trip to Italy to please bring him home some seeds, so he could grow the foods he missed most. Two that were the most important to him were arugula and the tomatoes from San Marzano.
Thinking about this saddens me as I recall that Nono never returned to his homeland for a visit. But with 10 kids to care for it wasn’t in his budget.
When I shop for canned tomatoes I look for the San Marzanos because they are the best. One strong memory from the Sardinia trip was a rice salad that my cousins make, especially in the summer. Hollowed-out fresh tomatoes are filled with the salad made with capers, olives, red onion, celery and whatever else “excites you from the freech (refrigerator) or groceria,” as my cousins would say in their broken English.
Their cooking isn’t so much about recipes as it is about using what’s available. Leftover grilled fish or vegetables, fresh herbs, hard-boiled eggs, raisins plumped up with a little Marsala wine, toasted walnuts or pine-nuts can be sitting in the fridge and tossed into a rice salad. Canned Italian tuna packed in olive oil is a favorite. With a crusty bread and platter of thinly sliced prosciutto, local farmers cheese and a chilled white wine, rice salad makes a perfect lunch and is very nice for a picnic at the beach.
On another trip, this time at Patrizia’s little summer house in Sicily, I could not believe the fig trees bursting with perfectly ripe fruit surrounding the cottage. We picked baskets of luscious figs and ate them with prosciutto, a favorite, and I made fig crostata (an Italian pie), fig jam and just enjoyed them freshly picked with a spoonful of that delicious mascarpone cheese.
It would have been nice to fill a bag with figs to bring home, but fresh produce doesn’t pass muster at customs. But I vowed that the next time I returned to Sicily it would be with jars to preserve those delicious figs. A few years later my wish was fulfilled and I returned home with several jars of fig jam. I outsmarted them!
Figs, if you have a source for fresh ones, are one of those foods that preparing more of is better, as in jams or just frozen for a quick crostata.
When my Roman relatives came for a visit, they were thrilled to see Gloucester. They had heard the stories about our cousins, Jack and Vincenza, who had migrated from Italy around 1917. They had a shop on Main Street for many years, where Jack made shoes and Vincenza made clothes. Later, they would move the store to Belmont. I still have the “going away” dress that Vincenza made for me for my first wedding. They loved going to my restaurant.
Our New England lobster was a big hit with the relatives as we took them around the North Shore. Together, we cooked lobster several ways, including Fra Diavolo with pasta, but mostly they enjoyed it New England style with corn on the cob, kielbasa and clams in a big pot that I make right on the stove, followed by blueberry pie for dessert.
When I visited them another time in Italy they asked me to make the pie with “streeps,” referring to the stripes of the lattice topping. I love what for me doesn’t get lost in translation. I find them, and their open embrace of our culture and language, delightful.
Summer Rice Salad (from cousins from Rome)
Cook rice according to package directions. Set aside 2 cups. Place in a large bowl to cool. Fluff with a fork after it cools slightly.
To the rice add:
Finely chop vegetables like red or green bell peppers, carrots, onions, celery, fennel.
Wash and clean some peapods, no need to cook them.
Cut some grape tomatoes in half.
Peel and cut 2 oranges into small chunks.
Wash and chop some basil, flat leaf parsley, chives, cilantro.
If you have some leftover corn, remove the kernels from the cob and toss with the rice.
Add some pitted olives, coarsely chopped, toasted pine-nuts and leftovers such as cooked shrimp, chicken fish or canned Italian tuna.
Toss with two forks, mixing in about 4 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle on the juice of half a lemon, kosher salt and ground pepper.