Rice and Leeks Cooked in the Asti Style

Riso e Porri Degli Ortolani d’ Asti

The origins of this dish go right back to the Middle Ages, to a time when the flourishing fields around Asti were mainly given over to the cultivation of garlic and leeks. Some elderly local peasants gave me this recipe, telling me that leeks purify the blood and improve the eyesight. Whether or not this is true, the soup is cleansing and refreshing to eat and can be very economical if you use up any odd bits of cheese you might have in the fridge. The soup has a very thick texture indeed as it is supposed to represent a whole meal in one dish. Peasants used to eat soups like this on a daily basis to nourish and warm themselves.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (225 g) leeks, cut into thickish rounds
  • oz (65 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 oz (25 g) belly pork, finely cubed
  • 4 oz (100 g) potatoes, peeled and cut in half
  • 2 pints (1.2 litres) cold water
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 oz (225 g) short-grain rice
  • large pinch grated nutmeg
  • 2 oz (50 g) fontina or mature Cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 2 oz (50 g) Gruyère or mature Emmenthal cheese, cubed
  • 2 oz (50 g) Parmesan cheese, grated

Method

Wash the leeks carefully and fry half of them lightly in half the butter with the bay leaf, garlic and belly pork for 20 minutes over a low heat and under a lid. Stir occasionally.

Remove the garlic and add the rest of the leeks and the potatoes. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the water, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the rice. Stir and season with the nutmeg.

Continue to simmer for 15–20 minutes or until the rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Just before you remove it from the heat, mash the potatoes with a fork. Stir the three cheeses thoroughly into the mixture and remove from the heat. Mix in the remaining butter and let the soup rest for 3 minutes under a lid to allow the flavour to develop fully before serving.

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