The idea for this rice salad with seafood came from Biba Caggiano, my favorite Italian cookery book author. This salad is brimming with tender morsels of tasty seafood, crunchy vegetables, a nice zing from the dressing, gherkins and capers, and a nice bite from the rice. It is a perfect summer substitute for a seafood risotto (which reminds me that I should do a post on risotto ai frutti di mare) as it is refreshing and unlike risotto it requires minimal cooking. It is also ideal to bring to a picnic.
The recipe below is just a suggestion, change it according to what is available and your personal preference. As with most Italian recipes, it is not the cooking but acquiring the best ingredients that is most important. It is not a good idea to cut down the amount of cooking even more by purchasing seafood that is already cooked, as using fresh seafood is key to making this a great salad. Using frozen raw shrimp and frozen raw squid is acceptable, but does impact the flavor. Taggiasca olives are small black olives from Liguria that have much more flavor than regular black olives. Try to find them, you may even like them if you are usually not that fond of olives.
I never like to discard flavor when I cook, and when I made this rice salad I went all out and used the juices from cooking the seafood as a cooking liquid for the rice. This does flavor the rice, but not as much as I had hoped, so feel free to omit those steps. Biba didn’t do that, either. Anyway, here’s my version.
For 4-6 servings
400 grams (2 cups) rice
1 kg (2.2 lbs) vongole or other small clams, soaked for an hour in salt water
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 small squid (calamari or seppioline), cleaned and cut into rings
1 red bell pepper
4 small pickled gherkins
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed
80 grams (1/2 cup) pitted black olives, preferably taggiasca
1 clove garlic, minced
extra virgin olive oil
For the dressing
juice of 1 lemon
extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley
Optional: make shrimp stock for cooking the rice. Sauté the heads and shells until they are orange, add 500 ml (2 cups) water, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Use about 1.5 litres (6 cups) of liquid to cook the rice. For this you can use water, or the reserved clam juices, reserved squid juices, and shrimp stock. If needed, add more water to get to 1.5 litres (6 cups) as the rice should be cooked in ample water to avoid sticking. Add a bit of salt and bring to a boil.
When the seafood stock or water boils, add the rice.
Put the rice in a bowl together with the olives, bell pepper, capers, and gherkins. Take the clams out of their shells (reserve a few in their shells for plating) and add them to the rice, together with the shrimp and squid.
Whisk to mix. Add the dressing just before serving. Do not add it before, as that would make the rice soggy. As usual with salads, do not add all the dressing at once but start with a little, mix, taste, and add more only if needed.
A refreshing Italian white such as Gavi di Gavi, Orvieto or Vermentino would be a perfect accompaniment to this salad. A good Prosecco would be nice, too.