It’s been a while since I last shared something with you. Almost a month has passed, and in that time, so much has changed. In a good way, that is: the world has turned from grey to green, there are flowers and blooming trees everywhere, mild weather, whiffs of flowers and grass, open ice cream parlors, kissing couples, a slight tan on my face already. Although I’m not much of a spring person, I can’t but feel revived. Walking around the city and along the banks of the Rhine river, I keep hearing the first three movements of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in my head (even without my iPod): the quick movements in a pronounced electro-pop-ish version, a kind of “Vanessa Mae and Emily Autumn wearing neon catsuits and playing their e-violins hanging from helicopters over Shanghai by night” interpretation (excuse my imagery). The slow movement in a solemn, almost sacral character, with hints of sadness laced through (gosh, I really am dramatic today). Springtime, in both its facets – happy and contemplative, vivacious yet still a bit drowsy – seems to be “on steroids” to me this year. Maybe that is why I don’t feel quite there yet with all the springy lightness. I’m allegro non molto this year.
Walking across the farmer’s market yesterday morning, I had a very strange experience: As I wandered past the stalls, packed with the first crisp spring produce – the first German asparagus, rhubarb (which always makes me giddy), mountains of herbs – I loved the sight of them, and loved watching people buying them and cheering over them, but nothing drew me towards them, really. I realized: I just don’t feel like springtime cooking yet. Somehow I am still craving hearty, warming and cozy foods, like pasta e fagioli (all carbs, really), meat stews, heavily spiced African or middle-eastern cuisine and the like. So here I am: as much as I wanted to give you one of those light and airy springtime dishes as I have seen them all over food blogs everywhere already, in almost overexposed brightness and colorful beauty – I can’t. Have your greens, I want my red.
Red Camargue rice is great stuff. It is a descendant of an Indian wild rice variety, grown on clay soil in southern france. It has a reddish-brown color and a wonderful nutty taste and chewy bite. As it is a wholemeal rice variety, it takes a bit longer to cook (about 40 minutes) than husked rice and lends itself to a pilaw-style preparation, in which the rice is slowly stewed with aromates in a scarce amount of liquid. I melted some red onions, cherry tomatoes and crimson Italian Salsiccia sausage as the base and slowly simmered the rice in it. The Salsiccia I had at hand had paprika instead of fennel seeds (which I buy normally). I echoed the paprika with a teenie bit of smoked paprika to give the whole thing some depth, and then, as I love (love, love) all anise and licorice flavors, I just added some fennel seeds directly to the pan, plus, as a nod to spring, I feathered the finished dish with some fresh chervil. If you are a “put an egg on it” kind of person, this pilaw is definitely a good place for a poached egg with liquid center.
Red Rice Pilaw with Salsiccia Sausage
Active time: 10 minutes, cooking: 40 minutes
Ingredients (serves 2)
1 cup red camargue rice
2 small red onions
1 clove garlic
125 g Salsiccia con paprika (or any other paprika sausage)
0.5 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp fennel seed
1 handful of cherry tomatoes
for serving: fresh chervil, raw olive oil
1 Cut the onion in wedges and finely slice the garlic. Put on a heavy pan with olive oil and fry the onions and garlic until tender, add some salt from the start. Remove the sausage casing from the Salsiccia and form little balls (you can also push the meat out of the casing). Add the Salsiccia and let its fat melt into the onions. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, roughly grind the fennel seed and add it to the pan, pepper and salt (the latter rather generously, since this is the salt the rice will absorb later). Turn up the heat and add the halved cherry tomatoes (I don’t bother peeling them) and let them melt. Then add the rice, give it a quick stir to cover the rice grains in the flavored oil, then add 1.5 to 2 cups of water and cover with a lid. Let everything come to the boil, then turn down to a low heat and let it simmer / swell for about 35 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.