Black rice risotto with caramelised pears and blue cheese is a feast, also for your eyes.
Black or wild?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this is going to be a dish that features wild rice, most commonly presented in a mix of wild, basmati and brown or red rice.
You’re thinking I have painstakingly picked the grains of the wild from the mix, like a modern day Cinderella, because on its own, wild rice is not usually sold in Europe.
You could not be more wrong.
Wild rice is not rice
First of all, a word about wild rice: it’s not rice. It’s the seed of a wild grass called manoomin (or moomin as I tend to call it), indigenous to North America and commonly eaten by Native American peoples.
The word ‘manoomin’ means ‘good berry’ or ‘harvesting berry’ showing us all here in Europe how foolish we are thinking it’s a direct relation to basmati or jasmine.
Black or forbidden rice
The rice which is the hero of the recipe here is definitely a type of rice, oryza sativa to be precise and scientific. It is also called purple, for reasons you’ll soon find out when you start cooking it, or forbidden rice. Intriguing, huh?
It’s a rare variety of rice, and its most common type is sticky and glutinous which is cooked into Thai porridge or desserts.
The firm, non-sticky variety grown in China can be cooked like ordinary rice to create all kinds of dishes. As it is rare, it was reserved for the emperor and the court in Ancient China – hence forbidden. None of that common white or brown muck that peasants eat!
What is black rice like?
It is not only rare but uniquely nutritious and full of antioxidants. To retain the colour it is hardly processed so it retains all the nutrients and fibre found in the hull of the grain.
And it’s purple when you rinse it, even purpler when cooked.
It also cooks faster than brown rice and tastes fabulous, although you should really do a blind test with black rice. I didn’t, and I couldn’t tell you whether it was its taste that I adored so, or the unusual feast for the eyes!
Black rice risotto
Black rice can be rinsed and cooked like brown, but you get the best of it in this risotto recipe, in my humble view.
The recipe original comes from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie Cooks Italy, with some assistance from Kay Gale of Travel Gourmet, who adjusted Jamie’s wildly wrong rice to liquid ratio.
I have rejigged the add-ons slightly, by cooking the pears used for garnish on the hob rather than baking them in the oven. It really is a bit wasteful to turn the oven on to roast one or two pears in it, especially in the current circumstances.
Risotto, but also easy
The best thing about this recipe is the way you cook the risotto: no standing slaving over the hob, stirring and ladling the stock.
It is more like the pilaf cooking method: soffritto gets sweated in the pan, the rice joins in and then all the liquid is poured in at once, bar the initial glass of vermouth.
The lid goes on and the risotto simmers all on its own for forty minutes or so, while you can turn your attention to the bottle of said vermouth (on the rocks, with a generous squeeze of lemon).
When the rice is tender, the classic final touches are applied: beating in the butter and Parmesan but in smaller quantities than you’d add to a carnaroli or arborio rice.
Cooking the pears
I hardly ever eat pears as raw fruit but I adore them cooked, especially in savoury dishes. Here they shine bright, and the combination with the black rice is masterful – thank you Jamie.
Peeled and quartered, in a skillet of foaming butter, a drizzle of honey and a sprig of rosemary laid across, they need only about ten minutes to soften, slightly caramelise and become an absolutely divine company for the forbidden rice.
And, obviously, blue cheese is to pears what Cheddar is to toast so that’s another match made in heaven.
More rice recipes
Classic Italian asparagus risotto, a variation of risotto primavera, is the best recipe for spring. This vegetarian risotto recipe takes an hour to make - not that easy but incredibly rewarding.
My Mexican rice recipe, arroz rojo, is pretty authentic, easy and incredibly tasty. Spicy Mexican rice is cooked like pilaf, frying the rice in oil first to brown then cooking it in stock with a lid on.
Persian baked rice with saffron and dill. The easiest Persian rice recipe with tahdig, burnt, crisp and crunchy layer of rice at the bottom, perfect every time.