This is one of those recipes that these days exist only in the memories of some elderly people and/or in books: a “forgotten” risotto with raisins from Venice, which is delectable, eccentric as well as easy to replicate anywhere.
References in books and in the web are scarce, but all sources agree that this risotto must have some sort of Middle East influences and that it dates back to the times when La Serenissima (literally meaning “the most serene one” – this is how Venice was often called) was a super power on the world scene, from the Middle Aget to the early 18th century.
The first printed version appeared in an early 1960s Italian cookery book and goes like this:
Fry some chopped garlic and a generous handful of chopped parsley in olive oil; add the rice and cook it by gradually adding hot water. Some soaked sultanas are added few minute before the rice is done and the whole dish is finished off with grated parmesan.
No measurements, no fuss and straightforward – ideal recipe.
During the following few decades this risotto crops up occasionally in some other cookery books, with minor variations: the raisins are added at the beginning, the water is replaced with a meat broth and sometimes saffron is added at the end.
I have also came across a risotto with fresh grapes in the childhood memories of an Italian lady remembering her early 1950s summer vacations outside Venice: this proved that, at one point in its history, this dish did actually exist in real life. I also found two references in these two English books: Francesco’s Kitchen and Italian Vegetarian Cookery (a little gem of a book, I think).
After gathering all this information, I devised my own version, following this trail of thoughts:
sultanas are the star of this risotto….. sultanas (like so much dried fruit) goes well with pork so why not using some pancetta or sausage meat too? …pancetta goes well with… rosmarin and/or sage …but rosemary has the advantage of being a classic pairing (in my mind) for sultanas (one of my favorite cake is Miascia from Lake Como, an apple, bread and GRAPE cake that is traditionally perfumed with rosemary )… so rosmarin had to be. Instead of garlic I went for the gentler taste of shallots.
Instead of water I used the broth derived from cooking chickpeas in the pressure cooker: this broth has a remarkable meaty flavor, I find. The trick is to put more water that one would normally use.
Rice has an affinity with bay leaves (and bay goes well with saffron, just in case I was going to use it…)… so the broth was also flavored with a fresh bay leaf. Bingo!
Next time I might add some toasted peanuts too.
To recap, here is my version of this ancient recipe:
Fry some finely chopped, lightly salted shallots, diced pancetta or crumbled , skinned sausage meat and chopped rosemary: no fat is required, the heat must be low and the saucepan must be covered.
In a different pot (the one you will be using to cook the risotto), toast some risotto rice without any fat.
Add some hot cooking liquid, some sultanas and the shallots/pancetta mix. Stirr well and keep on adding more hot liquid gradually, in the usual risotto-making technique.
Towards the end, perfume the risotto with a little dry vermouth, to counterbalance the overall sweetness. You could add some saffron too, if u wish, halfway through the cooking time. Finish the risotto with the usual cold butter and generous grated Parmigiano. Some black pepper is a nice touch