Watching the Two Greedy Italians, Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, on a sentimental food adventure across Italy, I've been somewhat awestruck by just how much Mr Carluccio's mannerisms and disposition remind me of my mother in her latter years. Bear in mind I haven't had the opportunity to meet the gentleman or see him in real life (time wise I was not able to get to Sydney's Crave Festival), so my impressions are from watching his cooking programs. And it's not that Carluccio looks like my mother, it's his persona, his nature, his air.
On the release of his memoir, A Recipe for Life, Carluccio spoke with Canberra Times food and wine editor, Kirsten Lawson. From this interview, I learn that despite his fame, Caruluccio has led a deeply troubled life. Yet, to me, he seems to have an aura of serenity, and knowing (if you understand my meaning), and contentedness about him. He has, perhaps, now found his 'happy place', through food, which he says is his life.
'Mmmmmm, they are wonderful,' he closes his eyes and smiles deliciously as he devours a mouthful of ripe figs plucked from a roadside tree by his best friend, Contaldo. Similarly, when tucking into a bowl of ragged-edged pasta with freshly made pesto, there is the sheer delight that comes from enjoying simple, good things.
'I [have] discovered that in getting old, or older, you are just content and happy to be who you are,' he said on the Italian philosophy of la bella figura. I nodded, for I know that this is how my mother felt. Not that she ever needed to say so. It was just so.
That said, however, the focus of this snippet was not intended to be Antonio Carluccio, nor la bella figura, nor indeed my mother. Actually, it was inspired by a light and luscious rice torta that my mother made often when I was quite small. Over the years, I have quietly fantasised about this cake and wished I had taken the opportunity to ask mum for her recipe. Her torta was based on a vanilla-infused rice pudding (tejbe riz) with plump raisins and a hint of orange.
Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo prepared a similar cake in an episode of Two Greedy Italians and I watched the segment over and over, and afterwards baked the torta myself. And then it happened. That moment when you taste something delicious from your childhood. I closed my eyes and smiled. Mmmmmmm. Molto delizioso, nagyon finom! The torta tastes just like my mother's version and one mouthful took me to a happy place!
My take on the recipe* is shared below. In Italian, this cake is known as Torta di Riso al Profumo d’Arancio, or Orange Rice Cake in English. It sounds much nicer in Italian no?
TORTA DI RISO AL PROFUMO D'ARANCIO
1.7 litres low fat milk
1 plump vanilla pod, split
rind of half a lemon, cut into thick strips
200g (1 cup) caster sugar
300g Arborio rice
6 large eggs
1/4 cup orange liqueur70g raisins
finely chopped zest of an orange
Prepare a 24cm springform cake tin by greasing it and lining the base and sides with baking paper.
Combine the milk, vanilla pod, strips of lemon rind and caster sugar in a large, heavy based saucepan and bring the milk to the boil. Add the rice, lower the heat and simmer until the rice is al dente and creamy. Discard the vanilla bean+ and lemon strips and allow the rice to cool.
While the rice is cooling, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, whisk the yolks with the orange liqueur until the mixture is creamy. Stir the egg yolks and liqueur into the cooled rice. Then gently fold the egg whites into the rice. Add the raisins and the orange zest, and stir through.
Bake in the preheated oven for one hour. Cover the top of the cake with foil halfway through to prevent over-browning. The cake can be served warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar. Indeed, it tastes better the following day. This quantity serves 8-10.
*The original recipe has you preheating the oven for what seemed to me to be way too long, so I have reworded it. I've also amended some of the quantities of ingredients slightly.
+I'm advised by Jennifer from Heilala Vanilla that the vanilla bean can be rinsed, dried and reused to infuse caster sugar.
The process in pictures...
Tell me, what food takes you to a happy place. And were you fortunate enough to catch Antonio Carluccio in Sydney?
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.