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Giada's Essential Italian Dishes: Sartu di Riso

Everything you need to know to master the truly showstopping crispy rice timbale!


Every cuisine has its core recipes, the fundamental dishes and techniques that set it apart from the rest of the world. I'm breaking down my 10 essential Italian dishes, sharing everything you need to know to master them and become a superstar Italian cook.
Sartu Di Riso
What It Is: When rice first arrived in Italy as an import from the Middle East, it was no match for the starchy superiority of pasta. But in 18th-century Naples, where French, Spanish, and Austrian families had ruled over the centuries, European royal chefs came up with a truly magnificent use for the humble grain, a towering dish of crispy, golden rice wrapped around a filling of meatballs, cheese, and vegetables in a flavorful tomato sauce. 
Sartu di riso is now a Neapolitan staple that has as many variations as there are home cooks in the region - some add bacon or mushrooms to the filling, and Aunt Raffy swears adding hard-boiled eggs is the way it must be done, but I don't love them. You make the call for yourself!
Why I Love It: There's no more stunning dish to reveal at a dinner party than a perfectly bronzed sartu di riso - that first slice into the crunchy rice crust revealing the fragrant, abundant filling never fails to inspire oohs and ahhs. It's a celebration dish, one that really shows the love you put into it. In our family, this dish was my nonna's specialty, and whenever I make it, I feel a special connection to her. 
How It's Done: The trick to conquering the sartu is to take your time and work carefully. It's not a difficult dish, but it is a process, so make sure you have plenty of time before get started, or you'll rush through a step and risk missing something important. (This is definitely not a weeknight dinner!) When you're assembling the sartu, the first step is the most crucial: buttering the pan thoroughly. Every inch needs to be coated in butter and breadcrumbs - any bald spots on the pan will stick to the rice, ruining your chances for unmolding a perfect golden casserole. 

Lots of cheese mixed into the rice gives you a sturdy structure that will hold its shape once it's out of the pan. When the sartu is done baking, give it time to rest - at least 15 minutes - to let the cheesy rice firm up just a little before you go to release it. (If you try to unmold the dish right out of the oven, it will collapse, spilling ultra-hot tomato sauce and melty cheese and creating a burn hazard.) And if you follow all the steps and your sartu still doesn't stay together, don't despair! I promise it'll still taste fantastic. Just plate individual portions before bringing them to the table, and no one will be the wiser.
 

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