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Summer Rice Salad

My mom always made this colorful rice salad when entertaining guests in the summer, and for family meals when it got too hot to cook. It is the traditional northern Italian rice salad served by families all across Lombardy and Piedmont, with a few personal twists added (Kosher pickles for extra acidity, and Kielbasa instead of frankfurters for deeper flavor). While the ingredient list looks long, the preparation time is minimal. Leftovers are wonderful for days, as long as you return the salad to room temperature before serving, or else the rice will be dry and chewy.

That said, I prefer serving the salad before it has seen the inside of the refrigerator: the texture of the rice and the brightness of the flavors will be far superior. To make a vegetarian version, omit the Kielbasa and tuna, and add 1/4 pound of cubed Fontina from Val d’Aosta. And if you would like a jolt of bold color and extra sweetness, add some diced roasted red pepper strips.

Serves 8 as part of a multi-course meal, or 4 as a main course

  • 1 cup parboiled rice (preferably Uncle Ben’s)
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 1/2 pound Kielbasa, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus extra if needed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 pound artichoke hearts marinated in olive oil, drained and finely chopped
  • 1 can (7 ounces) tuna packed in olive oil, drained and crumbled
  • 1/4 cup capers in brine, drained, chopped if large
  • 2 Kosher dill pickles, cut into 1/4-inch dice

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the rice and cook until almost al dente, about 11 minutes. Add the peas and Kielbasa, and cook 3 more minutes, or until the rice is al dente. The rice should not be mushy. Drain the rice thoroughly and place in a large bowl.

Stir in the vinegar, then stir in the olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne. (It is important to stir in the vinegar first, because adding the olive oil first would coat the rice with fat and prevent the vinegar from properly flavoring the salad, making for a heavy-tasting dish.)

Add the artichoke hearts, tuna, capers, and pickles. Stir well. Taste for seasoning and add more vinegar and/or salt if the flavors seem flat. Serve at room temperature, within 2 hours, or refrigerate up to 4 days.

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