Risi is the Italian word for “rice,” and it is also used to refer to a special pasta shape. Risi pasta, also known as risoni, is a pasta which closely resembles rice in shape and size. This pasta can be used in a variety of dishes, and it is especially highly recommended for soups. Many grocery stores carry risi, and if this pasta is not available, orzo is an acceptable substitute. Cooks with a pasta extruder can also try making risi at home.
At first glance, a pile of risi pasta could easily be mistaken for a pile of rice. Risi is slightly yellower than real rice, but it has the same slightly pointed ends and bulging middle. The small size makes risi suitable for soups, but it also works well mixed in with salads and stews. In baked pasta dishes, risi can be a bit intense, because the pasta is so small that it packs together very densely, creating a very thick, rich dish. It is the same with risi in plated form, since there are no cavities in the pasta to trap air and lighten up the dish.
The best risi is made from durum wheat. Durum is a wheat cultivar which is prized for its hardness. Even when overcooked, durum pasta will hold together and retain a slightly resilient texture. Softer wheats tend to break down in cooking, especially in soups, where the lingering heat of the soup continues to cook the pasta long after it is removed from the stove.
In addition to plain risi, it is also possible to find risi flavored with ingredients like spinach, pepper, and sundried tomatoes. Some companies make risi mixes which include a blend of colors and flavors. Risoni salads often look quite visually interesting with a pasta mix, for people who might be concerned with presentation.
One thing to watch out for with risi is the size. Because this pasta is so small, a riso or two may slide through a colander, especially if the colander has broad holes. When using risi in soups and stews, the best thing to do is to add the pasta directly to the soup at the very end of the cooking process, allowing the pasta to cook directly in the soup. If risi is to be used in a pasta salad, a fine mesh colander should be used to avoid loss, or cooks can line a regular colander with cheesecloth to keep the pasta contained when it is drained.