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X Italian Rice and Polenta Dishes
Risotto with Swiss Chard
Risotto with Swiss Chard and Saffron (Version II)
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise
Occasion: Any time
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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about 2 cups chicken broth
2 cups Italian rice
1 bunch Swiss chard*
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon saffron
about 1/2 cup Pecorino cheese, grated (optional)

Large pot of water to boil Swiss chard
Pot of water to boil rice

*In North America a wide variety of chard greens are available; Swiss chard comes closest to what was grown in Molise in the 1930s.


o Clean and cook Swiss chard. Drain. Chop into pieces (about 3 inches long).

o Cook rice in water until it is half done.

o Drain rice when it is half done. Continue cooking rice in chicken broth until it is ready (The rice should not be wet or soggy, but rather dryish).

o Fry onion until it is golden.

o Add garlic and continue frying for a few minutes.

o Add rice to the fried onion and garlic. Mix well.

o Add Swiss chard to the rice mixture.

o Season.

o Serve in individual bowls. Garnish with grated Pecorino cheese.


Apparently, this is how risotto was often done in Molise in the 1930s. However, I believe, saffron was not grown in and around Casacalenda, so most subsistence farmers in this area would have avoided its use. They would have used saffron to make "scapece," pickled fish, and other such festive foods (e.g. for Christmas) but not on everyday basis. My late grandmother, Nonna Seppe, certainly never used saffron. She only made dishes that contained foods she herself grew on her farm. As a subsistence farmer her choices were rather limited. P.S. Apparently, in the 1930s, spinach did not grow well in the region of Molise, but chard, "bietola" (in dialect, "lieta") did. So most Molisani dishes included "bietola" rather than spinach.... Photo: Mary Melfi.

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