El Riso co’la ua ovvero risotto con le uvette, cucina veneziana (risotto with sultanas from Venice)

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


14 thoughts on “El Riso co’la ua ovvero risotto con le uvette, cucina veneziana (risotto with sultanas from Venice)

  1. Stefano – I love the sound of this risotto, and especially your version. I just got some cannaroli rice in the mail, and now I have the perfect recipe to try using it. I am interested to try your method, too, of toasting the rice dry – I have never heard of this… interesting to read Frank’s comment that it is from the Jewish tradition. Maybe that book is available used? A presto, David


    1. ciao david… I suspect that in some farmers’ market barba di frate (agretti) could be found – generally the US farmers’ market scene is rather cool from what I read (and should u have an eataly nearby, I would not be surprised if they sold it – prices to check, of course)… ah! so u were in London recently… Borough Market is a beautiful place, no doubt. It is also very expensive often, but this is the case with most of London, especially when it comes to food. Of course this immediately makes food into a class thing, dividing people who have money to spare on quality and (the majority) who can, at best, afford supermarket stuff, which, very often, is rather boring and limited (unless shopping in waitress, the ferrari of uk supermarket).From my Italian point of view I sometimes despair at the produce I can (or cannot) find here: either very poor or outrageously expensive. there are some good farmers’ market, but, all in all, food, food production and consumption has become a big social problem here in the UK, where obesity is in the rise and the gap between a top, high spending elite and the rest of country has widened.
      🙂 s


      1. Ciao, Stefano ~ the farmers market scene here is really pretty fantastic, although generally much more expensive that those in Europe. I never mind spending more at the markets because I want to support the farmers – I hate paying a lot at fancy stores like your Waitrose and our local AJs. There is something about corporate food that drives me crazy. I wonder if barba di frate won’t grow here in the desert and that is why we never see it. I will have to ask my friends in more temperate zones if they see it at their farmers markets. We just loved the Borough market – was so excited for the variety of mushrooms available (didn’t care about the cost!) – and we found bergamot oranges. Made for some fun cooking at the New Year. For the most part, we made due at our Sainsbury’s local in Notting Hill. Found that the thing most lacking was a choice of proteins. Oh well… The issue you bring up about the widening gap between the haves and have-nots is bad here, as well. And obesity has been an American problem for the past few decades… no one walks anywhere any longer, and the fast food nation is not helping. I am always embarrassed when I go abroad and find McDonald’s and the like.


        1. … I am more benevolent towards supermarket, I guess… I am actually grateful they exist because I do think they have a role to play, especially for people on lower income, but not only for them
          It is then up to us buyers to shop intelligently: I am pretty lucky because I do have some money to spend on quality food but I shop almost everywhere, local shops, supermarkets, farmers market, farms ecc….let’s say that I tend to spread my money. At least here in the UK, there is a lack of quality, “normal” food shops and a lot of food pretentiousness and snobbery and I sometimes find refreshing to do my shopping (a part of it, actually)from my local supermarket….
          McDonalds: yup, pretty dire… I do not mind the so called burgers that much (I do not like them, but again, they play a role), it is the gallons of super cheap, nasty over sweet drinks that I really hate. Sugar is the real enemy I think (I mean, in those outrageous quantities)


  2. Interesting recipe, Stefano. Its preparation is unlike any I’ve seen for risotto. I should ask my Zia Pina if she recalls anything similar. Perhaps I should master it so that i can prepare it for her when I next visit. That would be something – if she lets me near her stove, that is. 🙂


  3. A lovely recipe! I had actually come across this dish in a very interesting cookbook I acquired many years ago entitled “The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews”. I even dedicated a few posts on my blog to the recipes, including this one actually. Sadly the book is out of print now. Jewish Italian cookery is a fascinating subject.


    1. of course: jewish food!! I did not check my books on Italian jewish food, foolish of me.
      Thanks for the comment – really appreciated. I have read yr post and yes..it is the same recipe. I have seen on amazon that the book u mention is available and I am very tempted… I love jewish food and I do have few books on the subject. actually whenever I am in Italy and visiting places, I always ask if there is a ghetto…. The one in Venice is beautiful…. there is an amazing synagogue…check this very, very interesting bbd documentary (it’s about florence, naples and venice and in the venice bit they enter the synagogue, something not easily seen)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYzawE9BTA8 (approx at minute 20)


    1. ah!..io invece ho quasi sempre della pancetta (e del lardo e grasso d’oca e beef dripping): sono quelle cose che veramente riescono a trasformare un piatto (e ne basta poco)


  4. thanks stefan…. I use a smaller pan for the fat-less soffritto: fewer chances to burn it; on the contrary the risotto is then cooked in a rather large risotto pan. As u understand Italian, do check the Italian links- worth reading


  5. Great recipe, I like your way of thinking about this as well as preparing old recipes. I’ll definitely try this. What is the reason for using 2 pans?


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