THE HOME COOK : The Littlest Pasta


The fact that $1.60 buys the basic ingredient for a supper for four is not the reason I am sharing these recipes with you. The reason is that riso is an almost magical ingredient that lends a rich, pleasing quality to dishes.

The tiny grain-shaped pasta called riso ( riso means rice in Italian), orzo (the word for barley) or seme di melone (melon seeds) is an unsung culinary ingredient. I think the reason these little pasta gems have remained undiscovered is that people think of them exclusively in terms of soup. But it is a versatile starch that makes something quite special out of dishes featuring rice.

Sometimes it is difficult to think of something new to put in front of family or friends, but these supper dishes have caused a stir in my house. Spanish Riso is full of the flavors of late-summer produce--tomatoes and bell peppers--with a little fire from hot pepper sauce. Serve this with Fontina cheese and whole-wheat rolls. The dessert (also made from that little one-pound box of riso ) is Creamy Riso Pudding, the creamiest, simplest pudding. I flavor it with vanilla and only a hint of nutmeg, but almond flavor would be good too, especially if the pudding is served with sliced peaches.

The logistics of a one-pound box of riso are that the pasta measures two cups dry, eight cups when cooked. I use six cups cooked pasta for the Spanish Riso and two cups for the Creamy Riso Pudding. To cook riso , you add it to a large pot of boiling salted water, let it cook for about 10 minutes, or until tender, and drain.



1 1/2 cups riso pasta

6 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups chopped tomatoes

1 1/2 cups finely diced green peppers

1/2 cup chopped green onions

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Salt, pepper

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Bring large pot salted water to boil. Add riso, stir and boil until pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add tomatoes, green peppers, green onions and garlic. Cook tomato mixture about 10 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in cooked riso. Stir with whisk to separate riso if in clumps. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in hot pepper sauce, basil and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Reheat if necessary and serve hot. (Will keep several days in refrigerator.) Makes 5 servings.

This is the creamiest rice pudding you’ve ever eaten, and it’s because riso, which impersonates the rice, is better than the real thing.


2 quarts water

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup riso (makes 2 cups cooked)

2 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 egg yolks

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup golden raisins

Ground nutmeg

Whipping cream

Combine water and salt in pot and bring to boil. Stir in riso. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender. Drain and set aside.

Combine milk and 6 tablespoons sugar in pan and bring to simmer. Add salt and stir. Lightly blend together egg and yolks. Remove milk mixture from heat. Pour little blended eggs over hot milk, stirring constantly. Add remaining eggs and stir briskly.

Return pan to heat and cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whisk riso into mixture. Add vanilla and raisins. Whisk until little clumps of riso are separated.


Pour custard into buttered 8-inch-square baking dish (or 6 ramekins) and bake at 350 degrees about 30 to 35 minutes or until set. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and nutmeg over top. Serve warm with cream. Makes 4 to 6 servings.