A recent article in La Cucina Italiana featured a selection of recipes for riso, or rice, each recipe using a different variety of rice. Some are traditional Italian risotto rices, such as Arborio, Carnaroli, and our Veneto favorite on our culinary bike tours, Vialone Nano. But one recipe in particular caught my attention; a recipe using Nero Venere, a black rice. First I thought it must be a white rice dish flavored using squid ink, but no – it is a unique, hard to find rice that is naturally black in color. And then, just the following week, I find this very same rice at my local farmstand! So now to learn more about it, and to use it.
Riso Venere is a relatively new whole grain rice variety. A black rice, known as Forbidden, has been cultivated in China for centuries, but was so rare that it was served only to the Emporer and his court (hence the name.) This particular strain of rice is not adaptable to the European climate, however, recently a Chinese hybrid specialist successfully produced a cross between the Chinese rice and an Italian strain, and this new rice variety, Riso Venere, retains the black color but can flourish in the European climate. This variety is now cultivated in Piedmont and Lombardy, in the Po River valley for one.
Venere rice is not only beautiful, but healthy as well. This wholegrain rice contains 4 times as much iron and twice as much selenium as regular rice. Selenium, as well as the very substance that gives this rice its distinctive black color, anthocyanins, are both antioxidants,which capture free radicals and reduce oxidative processes, and assist in the prevention of cancer and heart disease. As it is a wholegrain rice, it will take 40 or 50 minutes to cook, as most brown and other whole grain rices do.
This type of rice pairs well with seafood, so that’s where my thoughts drifted as I figured out what to do with it. It’s dramatic black color gives any dish using it an elegance; lobster seemed a natural choice.
In Italy, you will find a crustacean aragosta, a spiny lobster. This is not the same animal as the North American lobster, but a different species that lives in both the Mediterranean as well as the Adriatic. Back in the US, I would simply substitute the wonderful local lobsters I can easily find in any seafood market. A little fennel to start, white wine or prosecco and fish stock, and I had an elegant and healthy meal. It being summer now, I like to use the grill as much as possible. For my dinner this night, I chose to grill the lobsters. You can either parboil or steam the lobsters for 3 minutes or so, then cut in half and finish on the grill.
3 tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons melted, 1 softened
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 1/4 cups vegetable or fish stock
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, white part only, trimmed of roots and outer leaves, sliced thinly crosswise and swirled in a bowl of cold water to remove any grit
1/2 head fennel, tough outer layers removed, core removed, thinly sliced
2 cups risotto rice Riso Venere Nero
1 1/2 cups prosecco
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Place a large pot of water, or a pot fitted with a steamer rack and filled with 2 inches of water, on a burner. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Place the lobsters in the pot, cover, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove the lobsters from the pot.
Place a lobster shell side down on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, place the tip in the middle of the lobster, with the sharp end facing the head, and thrust down, bringing the rest of blade down from the center along the head, cutting the lobster in half lengthwise. Turn the lobster and repeat, cutting through the tail. Separate the two halves. Place on a sheet pan. Do the same with the other two lobsters.
Bring the stock to a low boil. Preheat the grill to medium high.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan, add the leek and fennel and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Add the rice. Stir for about 1 minute. Add the prosecco, and simmer until it has evaporated. Stir in a ladleful of the stock. Cook, adding the stock a ladleful at a time, and allowing it to be absorbed by the rice before adding more. Cook until the rice is al dente; don’t worry if you don’t use all the stock, you don’t want mushy rice. This Venere rice will take about 40 – 50 minutes to cook, significantly longer than most risotto rices. It will also not be as creamy.
About 10 minutes or so before you think the rice will be done, drizzle the lobster bodies with the melted butter, and season with salt and pepper. Place the lobsters meat side up on the grill, grill until cooked through, about 7 – 9 minutes. Remove from grill, place on a clean sheet pan and cover to keep warm. This step is a great one to delegate, while you continue to watch the risotto!
When the risotto is al dente, season with salt to taste, and serve in a warm dish, topped with a half lobster, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and garnished with the chopped parsley.
Pair with the prosecco you used in the recipe, like a nice one from Col Vetoraz.