Italian black rice is a medium grain rice variety with a blackish to dark purple hull. It is closely related to Asian black rice, although it tends to be slightly less glutinous when cooked than the Asian variety. Like other whole grain foods, this rice is rich in vitamins and minerals, making an excellent dietary choice as well as an unusual addition to the dinner table. Italian import stores and specialty markets may stock Italian black rice, and the Asian variety can generally be used in recipes which call for the Italian version if you have trouble finding true Italian black rice.
The hull of black rice varies in color; some producers grow a more rust-colored version of black rice, while in other places the rich is a deep, charcoal black. In all cases, this rice is sold as a whole grain food; if the husks are removed, it becomes an ordinary medium grain white rice. As black rice cooks, it slowly turns purple, developing an intoxicating aroma and a rich, nutty flavor. Well cooked Italian black rice will have a dense, chewy texture.
The cuisine of Northern Italy features black rice more than cuisine from other regions. The rice may be served as a side dish or used hot and cold in salads, risottos, and a range of other foods. Many cooks like to pair black rice with fava beans, when the beans are in season, creating a very distinctive dish with an intensely nutty, rich flavor.
Like other whole grain rice, Italian black rice can become rancid if it is not handled properly. Ideally, you should plan on using the rice within six months of purchase, and if you want it to stay fresh, you should store it under refrigeration. Make sure to wash your black rice thoroughly before use, to remove any clinging plant material or dirt. If you soak black rice for several hours or overnight before cooking, it will dramatically decrease the cooking time; otherwise, plan on cooking the rice for around an hour.
Another style of black rice is actually dyed with squid ink. Squid ink is a common food coloring in Italy; it often crops up in pasta, for example. Black rice with squid ink can be found in Florence, as well as in other regions of Italy. Recipes for Italian black rice produced with squid ink usually call for the addition of ink by the cook, who pours it in as the rice is cooking so that it will absorb the dye. Black rice with squid ink is also popular in Spain.