Budino di Riso (Rice Torte)

Torta di Riso. Photo by Todd Mecklem.

We arrived in Lucca with plenty of time to spare before our hotel’s reception desk opened. We went to a little cafe with outdoor seating because we really needed a snack to perk us up. We ordered coffee and some budino di riso, which is a baked rice pudding. It’s a traditional dessert from the northern part of Italy. What I liked about it was that it was sweet and comforting but not so filling it spoiled our appetites. I’m not a big fan of rice but I’ll eat it this way!

I plan to bake one of these soon (this weekend?) and top it with fresh berries from the farmers’ market. There’s a recipe that looks promising on Martin Yarnit’s blog, Bologna- Italy’s Best Kept Food Secret. I like his friend’s mother’s recipe because it’s the basic version and doesn’t have a crust. Simple, comforting, delicious.

Ristorante Ammodonostro in Lucca

Ristorante Ammodonstro

An internet aquaintance of mine from Lucca suggested we try Ammodonostro, a restaurant off the tourist path in Lucca. We were the first customers of the evening, not surprisingly. Italians eat dinner later than we Americans tend to. The waitress was very friendly and spoke good English, and chatted with us for a bit before we ordered. We ordered the house red, Le Mura Rosso, produced by Colli Toscani Igt with Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes. It was a light red with just a bit of tannin.

We weren’t up for a typical full course meal as tempting as the menu was so we ordered a Lucchese specialty, Tortelli Lucchesi al ragù di carne, which is a meat filled pasta with a sauce similar to “bolognese” sauce. Our waitress tried to explain the difference between Bolognese and Lucchese sauces and said one had tomato while the other didn’t, and one had a white vegetable in it but she didn’t know the name. I looked through my Italian cookbooks but could find the difference but I’m guessing it’s either celery or leeks.

The tortelli was delicious! It was lighter than I expected, not at all like the heavy ragus I’ve eaten at Italian-American restaurants. The pasta was fresh, and the meat inside was also light and flavorful. I enjoyed every succulent bite.

Our second course was a tomato and mozzarella salad. The tomatoes were green, as in not at all ripe but it worked because it gave crunchiness to the salad very ripe tomatoes don’t have. The mozzarella was creamy and flavorful, and a bit of olive oil and basil leaves were drizzled and strewn on top. I don’t know if the tomatoes were a different variety, or if they use them green before they ripen, but it really worked in this dish. The only other way I’ve green tomatoes is breaded and fried, and everything is tasty when fried.

Alas, the end of this really nice meal was exasperating. We were both tired and ready to go back to the hotel. (We’d already had to wait a few hours to get into our hotel but that’s a different story.) I motioned for the check, which our waitress acknowledged, but we didn’t see said check until 45 cranky minutes later. Todd asked for it twice, and she agreed to bring it but didn’t. Finally,she did bring it and we paid. I’m sure part of it was that she got suddenly slammed and it seemed like she was the only wait person. I also sure part of it was our non-Italian inability to savor a meal for hours on end. (One of us more so than the other but I’m not naming names here….)

http://www.ristoranteammodonostro.it/