Torta di riso (Italian rice cake) brings back fond memories of the short time I spent with an Italian family in Torano Italy, not far from Pisa and Florence. I learned the essence and fundamental importance of family life there.
Nonna would lovingly prepare, cook and clean all day long and provide breakfast, lunch and dinner every day without fail. Sunday was the highlight of the week. The house the family lived in was quite large as far as Italian homes go, and in the centre of the home was the spacious kitchen with its high vaulted ceiling. Much of their house, from the front door to the back, contained marble in one form or another, even the 12-seater kitchen table had a marble top. That magnificent table was very handy at the weekend as Sunday was family day.
Nonna would get up at the crack of dawn to go and collect the freshly laid eggs, pick fresh basil and tomatoes and set to work on her most exquisite and lovingly prepared lasagne. Once the fresh pasta was made and carefully rolled by hand into wafer thin sheets, it was then layered together with the silky rich tomato and basil sauce and popped into the oven to bake. Then the torta di riso was prepared.
Nonna used a special red-coloured liquor to flavour the cake and to be honest I can’t remember exactly what it was, so I have adapted the recipe to suit what I have in stock. Nonna baked the torta di riso in a large roasting tin, then cut the cake into squares and served it with gelato that the young ones had brought with them that day.
I have borrowed the recipe and turned it into my version of this special Italian rice cake. It brings back so many wonderful and heart-warming memories for me, demonstrating the true essence of family life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Ingredients & Method
For the rice cake
- 100g ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped
- 100g golden sultanas
- 25ml brandy
- 25ml fresh orange juice
- 850ml milk
- 150g Arborio rice
- 1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways and seeds scraped out
- finely grated zest of 1 orange
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 100g caster sugar
- icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
For the poached apricots
- 100g caster sugar
- 100ml cold water
- 6 large fresh ripe apricots, cut into quarters, stones removed
- a sprig of fresh thyme
- sweetened mascarpone cheese, to serve
Prepare the rice cake. First put the dried apricots and golden sultanas in a bowl, pour over the brandy and orange juice and mix. Cover and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes, but preferably overnight.
Once the fruit has soaked, place the milk, rice, vanilla seeds and orange zest in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over a medium heat. Continue to simmer gently, stirring continuously, for about 20–25 minutes, until the rice is cooked and the mixture has thickened considerably. It is important to stir continuously as the rice will catch easily. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a deep 22cm springform cake tin and set aside.
Add the soaked fruits and any soaking liquid to the slightly cooled rice, then stir in the egg yolks and caster sugar. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gently fold into the rice mixture until evenly combined. Pour the mixture evenly into the prepared cake tin.
Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes or until risen and golden brown (the cake will sink slightly once cooled, which is correct). Let the cake cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then carefully remove it from the tin to a plate. The cake is now ready to serve – it can be served warm or cold (see Cook’s Notes). Dust the cake with icing sugar just before serving, if you like.
While the cake is baking, prepare the poached apricots. Put the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 2 minutes. Add the apricots and thyme, then remove from the heat and let the apricots sit in the warm pan for about 10 minutes (the heat from the pan and syrup is enough to poach the apricots). Discard the thyme sprig and serve the poached apricots with the rice cake (see Cook’s Notes).
Serve the rice cake (warm or cold) with the warm poached apricots (or with Honey and Marsala Grilled Figs – see Variation) and sweetened mascarpone cheese.
The baked rice cake will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
The poached apricots can also be served chilled. They will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
Instead of serving the rice cake with poached apricots, try serving it with Honey and Marsala Grilled Figs instead.
Honey and Marsala Grilled Figs
Preheat the grill to medium. Cut 6 large fresh black Turkish figs each into 6 wedges and place on a baking tray. Drizzle over 1 tablespoon clear honey, dust over 1 tablespoon icing sugar, then sprinkle over 2 teaspoons Marsala wine. Grill for about 2 minutes, or until the figs are warmed through and the icing sugar has melted. Cool for 2 minutes, then serve with the rice cake.