As Italian restaurants in America have become somewhat more Italian in the past couple of decades, dishes have found their way to menus here that were once cooked only in a certain region or city like the now-familiar pasta carbonara and saltimbocca from Rome, Bologna’s ragu Bolognese (including the odd spaghetti Bolognese that has captured the hearts of the British), and osso buco and risotto Milanese from Milan.
But, with the incredible diversity of cooking throughout Italy, there are numerous local and regional preparations that remain scarce or unknown on American restaurant menus. The tortelli of Lucca, the bigoli of Venice, the pizzocheri of the Valtellina and the testaroli al pesto from Lunigiana are just a handful. One such dish is even more obscure here than most, it’s risotto alla pilota from Mantua, a city in Lombardy, southeast of Milan, the setting of Verdi’s Rigoletto.
It is a dish that takes its name after the men who worked in the rice fields surrounding Mantua, the pilota. Risotto alla pilota – or Riso alla Pilota – is unique among risotto dishes because it uses water instead of broth and is cooked in a somewhat different manner. Well-regarded Oliveto in Oakland has served in the past, but the dish is rarely found, even in name, on restaurant menus in this country.
Though you won’t be able to source the exact type of sausage that’s used around Mantua, a good quality Italian-type sausage can make for enjoyable dish. Adapted from the estimable Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni (E.P. Dutton & Co., 1969), serving 4 to 6:
Water – 4 cups
Vialone Nano – 2 ½ cups
Pork sausages – ½ pound
Nutmeg – pinch
Cinnamon – pinch
Parmigano-Reggiano – ¾ cup, grated
- Pour the water into an earthenware casserole or a heavy pan with a lid, add salt and bring to a boil
- Pour the rice into the middle of the pan so that it forms a heap, with the top of the rice showing just above the water.
- Cook for 5 minutes and remove from the heat.
- Shake the pan slightly to settle the rice. Cover the top of the pan with a cloth. Put the lid on the pan and cover with another cloth. The rice will continue to cook off the heat.
- Remove the meat from the sausage, crumble into another pan and cook for several minutes, adding the nutmeg and cinnamon.
- Leave the rice for about 25 before uncovering the pan.
- Add the sausage along with the grated cheese. Cover the pan to let meld for 2 minutes and serve.