Riso Nero

Black Rice Cake

When I came across this recipe from Western Sicily, I was intrigued to find so many apparent similarities with one of my favorite traditional Italian desserts, the Easter cake from Bologna (see The Classic Italian Cook Book, page 428). Both have rice boiled in milk, both have almonds and chopped citron. That, however, is where the similarity ends. In the Sicilian cake the flavor of dark espresso, both the grounds and the brew, and of chocolate takes over. It is these two ingredients that are responsible for riso nero’s striking, almost inky black appearance. The rice becomes so closely bound to the almonds that some of my friends, upon trying it for the first time, were startled to be informed that it was a rice and not an almond cake. Moreover, riso new, unlike the Bolognese cake, is not baked.


  • 4 ounces whole, shelled almonds, peeled as described
  • 3 or more cups milk
  • ½ cup Arborio Italian rice
  • 1⅓ cups strong espresso coffee
  • cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated
  • 2 ounces (½ cup) citron chopped fine
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon (outer skin with none of the white pith beneath)
  • 1 tablespoon espresso, very finely ground
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • Whipped cream topping made with 1 cup heavy cream and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar


  1. Chop the peeled almonds fine, by hand or in the food processor.
  2. Put the chopped almonds in a saucepan together with 3 cups of milk, the rice, the brewed coffee, sugar, and salt. Turn on the heat to medium, bring to a slow boil, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 1 hour, until all the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is compact. Taste to make sure that the rice is very tender. If it is not, and there is no liquid left, add ½ cup of milk and continue cooking, stirring steadily, until all the milk has either evaporated or been absorbed and the rice is well done.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the grated chocolate, chopped citron, grated lemon peel, and coffee grounds. Mix thoroughly to a uniform consistency.
  4. Choose a cake mold into which the mixture can be spread to a thickness of no more than inches. A rectangular mold is best because if the cake is spread too broad it has a tendency to become too dry. Line the mold with wax paper greased with the butter. Pour the rice batter into it, leveling it and pressing it down firmly. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours. It can stay in the refrigerator for as long as 4 days before serving.
  5. Unmold over a serving platter and top with whipped cream.