Let’s talk about rice salads, shall we? Here in the US we don’t eat rice salads, insalata di riso, nearly as much as they do in Italy during the summer months. But we should! In my opinion, this summer staple comes close to the perfect dish for the hot, humid days of summer. You can easily make it in advance and pop it in the fridge. You can easily pack it up to bring to a friend’s dinner, the beach or a picnic. And you can completely customize depending on your mood and your tastes. I just love these salads!
You have so many options when making this salad. In Italy, almost every cook has their favorite spin and the ingredients can vary widely. The classic insalata di riso typically combines cooked rice with tuna, some sort of ham like a prosciutto or mortadella, pickled vegetables and topped with hard boiled eggs. I have had versions made with little succulent shrimp and currants, with perfectly grilled eggplant, and one with mussels – and they were all delicious. Recently, I have been addicted to frying up my zucchini very Stanley-Tucci-pasta-alla-nerano-style: thinly sliced and pan fried until the edges are crispy. So I used this as my starting point to add to the rice.
In addition, I tossed in some young semi-soft pecorino, salty prosciutto, and a few cans of high quality tuna. Topped it all with some fresh chopped herbs (I used parsley, mint and basil), some toasted pine nuts for crunch and a few hard boiled eggs. The recipe is below but don’t be afraid to experiment! More tuna or zucchini? Add it in. Keeping in meatless? Skip the prosciutto. Would prefer a different cheese? Just sub it in. Consider the rice your backdrop to create your fave version as these salads really are a keeper on the summer repertoire.
A mention about the ingredients. You can use either short-grain Italian rice, like an Arborio, or a long-grain rice like basmati. I prefer to use a long-grain rice as if stays a bit firmer but either works well. Try to cook the rice just until ‘al dente’ – tender yet still firm to the bite as this adds a nice texture to the salad. And the tuna – important to use high quality tuna in olive oil for this recipe as it is one of the stars of the show. It is usually easy to find these days on any supermarket shelf – either canned or in a jar – but be sure it is packed in olive oil. Lastly, I used a few products from the beautiful artisans at Bona Furtuna that can be found in our shop. Their 100% organic olive oil is picked by local farmers and estate bottled within 24 hours and their artisanal lemon sea salt is infused with organic essential oils from Sicilian lemons. (I adore this sea salt and use it on everything possible – love it sprinkled on olive oil and served with warm bread to soak up all the lemony briny flavor.)
I hope you enjoy the recipe and the beautiful summer months ahead! For me, it sure feels like an awakening from a way too long winter hibernation. Hopefully this salad will add just a little bit of Italy to those long overdue celebrations outside!
Buon appetito! xoxo
Insalata di Riso is an Italian summer staple. This recipe includes zucchini, tuna, prosciutto and pecorino for a medley of summer flavors.
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups long grain rice
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- Olive oil for frying
- 2 small or 1 medium/large zucchini
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, (I used Bona Furtuna extra-virgin olive oil )
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 lemon, zest of whole lemon, juice of ½
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt kosher (I used Bona Furtuna Sicilian sea salt with organic lemon )
- Freshly ground black pepper
- About 1/3 pound prosciutto, torn into strips
- 2 (5-ounce) cans good quality tuna, packed in olive oil
- About 1/3 pound semi-soft cheese, such as a young pecorino or mozzarella, diced
- 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh parsley, basil, and mint
Hard boil the eggs: Place the eggs in a medium pot. Cover with cold water by about an inch or two. Heat the pan on high heat and bring the water to a full boil. Turn off the heat and cover the pot. Leave the pot on the same burner. Let the eggs sit for 12 minutes for hard boiled. Transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to stop them from booking further. Once cool enough to handle, peel the eggs (I find doing this under a gentle stream of cold water makes the task easier.) Set aside.
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and cook following the package directions, until al dente (firm to the bite). Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer or colander and run cold water over the rice to stop the cooking. Place the rice in a large bowl that you will use to toss the salad together. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
In the same medium skillet that you will use to fry the zucchini (cut down on those dishes to wash), toast the pine nuts. Place the pine nuts in the dry skillet over medium heat. Watch carefully so they do not burn, stirring the nuts or shaking the pan, until the nuts are toasted and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat so they do not burn. Transfer the nuts to a small bowl.
Slice the zucchini into thin rounds. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet over medium heat. Fry the zucchini slices, a few at a time so as not to crowd the pan, until they are golden brown. Drain them on a paper towel as they are ready.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon zest and juice, sea salt and pepper. Taste and adjust any seasonings. Add the dressing to the rice in the large bowl and toss to combine. Add in the prosciutto, tuna, and cheese. Stir to combine. Set aside a few of the zucchini slices to dress the top. Add in the rest of the zucchini slices and the chopped herbs. Stir gently.
Transfer to your serving bowl. Top with the reserved zucchini slices. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and top with the halved hard-boiled eggs. Serve and enjoy!