Tender, creamy rice
Layers of meaty flavor
Hearty but well-rounded
I was skeptical when I first heard of paniscia, a specialty from the city of Novara in Piedmont, northern Italy. It is essentially a merger of two dishes: risotto—flavored with cured meats and red wine—and a minestrone-like bean and vegetable soup. Bean, meat, and red wine risotto? Figuring that paniscia must be experienced to be understood, I headed into the kitchen.
I first made a minestrone, simmering dried soaked cranberry beans in chicken broth along with mirepoix (chopped carrot, celery, and onion), cabbage, and pancetta. Meanwhile, I started a risotto, first browning Genoa salami (my sub for the traditional but hard-to-find lard-cured salami called salam d'la duja) and then toasting Arborio rice in the fat before pouring in red wine. Adhering to the established risotto method, I stirred liquid (here, the soup) into the rice in multiple additions. I finished the dish with a little butter.
I ate every grain. This was pure, soul-satisfying nourishment with deep, layered flavor.
At first blush, the mix of components in paniscia may seem odd, but it makes perfect sense from a geographical standpoint: The dish combines ingredients from Italy’s Piedmont region in one pot.
With all hesitations about paniscia cast aside, I started thinking on a practical level. Was it truly necessary to prepare two dishes to make one? Specifically, could I use our Almost Hands-Free Risotto method to combine the minestrone ingredients with the rice?
The trick in that recipe is to add most of the liquid to the rice up front rather than in stages, which helps the grains cook evenly so that you need to stir only a couple of times. We also cover the pot, which helps evenly distribute the heat so that every grain is tender.
I sautéed pancetta and then added the mirepoix. Next, I added the rice, salami, and wine, stirring until the wine was absorbed. I then incorporated hot chicken broth—which I had bubbling on a back burner—all at once. Cabbage went in next, followed by canned pinto beans (our favorite substitution for dried cranberry beans). A cup of hot water thinned the texture, and after a few minutes the rice was beautifully creamy. But the dish didn't taste very meaty. Also, I wondered if I could make one more shortcut by not preheating the broth.
For more savoriness, I added tomato paste and minced garlic and tripled the amount of salami. As for the broth question, the recipe worked seamlessly with room-temperature broth, saving me a pan to wash.
My streamlined recipe boasted tangy salami, just-wilted cabbage, and creamy beans, combined in a luscious risotto. Fresh parsley and red wine vinegar offset its rich flavors. And, though it's not traditional, I couldn't pass up a bit of grated Parmesan as well.
Keys to Success
Tender, creamy riceCooking the risotto via our streamlined method means adding most of the broth at once. This ensures that the rice cooks evenly and turns perfectly al dente. Stirring for a few minutes at the end helps further release the rice’s starch so the dish is creamy.
Layers of meaty flavorPancetta and salami give the dish two kinds of meaty flavor. The pancetta acts as a base flavor while pieces of salami mean tangy, tender meatiness is studded throughout.
Hearty but well-roundedCanned pinto beans add creaminess. Chopped cabbage stirred in partway through cooking softens just enough to become tender but still maintains some bite.
Ultrasimplified methodWe first streamline the traditional method of turning two dishes—a minestrone-like soup and a risotto—into one by just focusing on cooking a risotto and then adding the soup ingredients to it. We also cook the rice with room-temperature broth and hot water from the tap instead of heating the liquid on the stove.