January 31, 2018
Torta di Riso is an Italian specialty. It is basically a rice pudding baked inside of a pastry crust; a Rice Tart, so to speak.
I first had Torta di Riso more than 20 years ago while visiting Italy with my husband and his parents.
We ate meals at the homes of many relatives. I often arrived with a spiral-bound notebook to jot down the inevitable recipes that would be discussed around the table or the recipes I begged for after being served something wonderful. That notebook is a mashup of American and Metric measures and English and Italian words for ingredients. It became a bible of sorts for recreating many of the dishes I ate on that trip.
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My father-in-law’s Zia (Aunt) Meri made the first Torta di Riso that I ever tasted. Her recipe is below (adapted for American measures).
After having it at Zio (Uncle) Beppe and Zia Meri’s house, I started noticing Torta di Riso in many places in Tuscany.
Alkermes liqueur originated in Tuscany so it is particularly appropriate to use it as the liqueur in Torta di Riso. Alkermes is nearly impossible to find in the United States, however. One can make a perfectly traditional Torta di Riso using rum in place of Alkermes but the resulting confection won’t be pink.
According to CooksInfo, “Alchermes was invented in the Frati Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Its making was kept secret, but the recipe was reputedly stolen by spies from the nearby city of Siena, which Florence was often at war with.”
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Recipes for alkermes (also spelled alchermes) are closely guarded but the process basically involves infusing alcohol with spices and flavorings like cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, star anise, rosewater, and orange zest. The red color comes from cochineal, an insect that is the foundation for natural red food coloring. The resulting infused alcohol is sweetened and diluted with water.
The pastry crust is pasta frolla, a slightly sweetened pastry, leavened with baking powder, and often flavored with vanilla and lemon zest. This is Meri’s recipe for pasta frolla but I also have one from Zia Fidalma that makes about half the quantity.
If you don’t have access to Alkermes, you can use rum. In fact, torta di riso is not always pink. Many that I saw in Italy were white.
If you want to try to make your own Alkermes you can find a recipe here. Amazon even sells the dried cochineal insects that provide the traditional scarlet color.
If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at email@example.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look. They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.