Bomba di Riso (Rice Bomb)

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This incredible stuffed rice cake, which translates as ‘rice bomb’ from Italian, is great for sharing with loved ones and makes a dramatic table centrepiece. We have two variations to choose from – one filled with a rich meat sauce, the other packed with summer vegetables.

First published in 2015

This dramatic, crowd-pleasing centrepiece is a traditional dish from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, particularly mountainous areas such as Calestano, where I recently visited. Laden with risotto rice, eggs and the local Parmigiano Reggiano, it is typically stuffed with a long-simmered meat sauce – this recipe uses veal, pork, beef and chicken – and is a feature of the cold winter months.

I have also secured a vegetable version, so vegetarians such as myself don't feel too left out – Adriana was gracious enough to prepare a whole separate vegetable bomba di riso exclusively for me when I visited. The meat version takes several hours to prepare, but most of that is hands-off simmering or baking. The vegetable version comes together much more quickly, though it still requires the same hour-long bake.

Like one of the other recipes I brought back from the region, Agnolotti stuffed pasta with potatoes, Parmigiano Reggiano and black truffle, I was taught this dish by accomplished home cook, Adriana Salsi. Welcomed into her home with extraordinary hospitality, she took me through exactly how to execute this wonderful meal, including how to reveal the bomba di riso with style and aplomb, and how disparate family members can be drawn to the table with the promise of remarkable food.

The gelatine found in veal meat adds body to the meat filling, while the pork brings richness. The other meats – beef and chicken – ramp up the flavour. Instead of browning the meats beforehand, they are added straight into liquid, resulting in meat that is more tender, with less toughness and chew, falling apart appealingly in the mouth. Rich, but not overpoweringly so, thanks to the addition of acidic white wine, there are many layers of flavour, built up over more than three hours of delicate simmering.

The cut of veal used in this dish is similar to that used in a traditional ragù – not too fatty. The sauce used as the filling is very similar to a ragù, but the pieces of meat are larger for the bomba filling. Also, more water is used to cook the meat, creating a flavour-packed broth to season the rice with.


The vegetable option uses a variety of summer vegetables, simmered with seasonings and plenty of butter and olive oil. You can vary the types of vegetables used, or can opt to showcase just one vegetable – mushrooms would be an excellent choice.

The type of pan you use is important here. It should be heavy, to ensure the bomba di riso cooks evenly and the rice forms a good crust. It should also be as non-stick as possible. Adriana used an ancient copper pan lined with tin, but a modern alternative can be substituted. Whatever kind of pan you choose, make sure the coating of of olive oil and breadcrumbs inside the pan is very thick – there are very few things that are more depressing than spending hours crafting each flavourful component, then having your bomba stick.

Lastly – and importantly for a dish with lengthy prep time – your bomba di riso can be made ahead. In fact, it benefits from the cooling and reheating process, the flavours becoming more concentrated and the rice becoming more solid.

A dish to bring people together, all filled with delighted expectation of your bomba – whichever version you choose.

All images courtesy of John Holdship unless otherwise credited.




Meat sauce

Assembling the bomba


To begin, put a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Peel the shallot and slice thin rounds straight into the saucepan (this method retains all the shallot's juices)
When shallot has softened, about ten minutes, add the white wine, about 300ml water, 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, a stock cube if you don't think your meat will be flavoursome enough and the diced meat
Simmer gently until the meat has started to absorb the water and wine. Add the finely diced carrots and celery, and a good squeeze of tomato purée and stir to combine
Leave to cook, covered, over a very low heat for 2-3 hours, until the meat is very tender and has released all its water
When the meat is nearly ready, add the dried cep mushrooms to a small bowl and rehydrate in boiling water for about 20 minutes. When the mushrooms are soft, squeeze out any excess water and add them to the meat sauce. The sauce should be quite liquidy when finished – there should be enough water left in the sauce to finish cooking the al dente rice as it bakes in the oven
When the meat has finished cooking, turn off the heat, add the butter and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding more sea salt if necessary, and set aside
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4
To bake the bomba di riso you will need a large, heavy, deep pan – about 25cm wide and 20cm deep
Coat the inside of the pan very generously with olive oil and sprinkle in the breadcrumbs
Cover the insides of the pan with a thick layer of breadcrumbs, turning the pan to make sure every surface is evenly coated, gently tapping out any excess, and set aside
Break the eggs into a medium bowl and add about 300g Parmigiano Reggiano, about 10 scrapes of nutmeg (or more to taste) and a good pinch of salt. Blend everything together very well with a fork and set aside
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and crumble in the vegetable stock cube. When the water is boiling, add the rice and cook for about 10 minutes or until it is almost done, but still has some bite.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked rice to a large bowl, leaving the rice-cooking water still in the saucepan
Pour any excess liquid from the sauce into a large bowl – using a ladle or the saucepan lid to hold the meat or vegetables back as you tip in the liquid
Mix everything together well, if necessary adding a little rice-cooking water – the resulting mixture should be quite runny
Add the egg-cheese mixture and another 50g Parmigiano Reggiano. Taste the mixture for seasoning, adding more Parmigiano Reggiano as desired
Add about 3/4 of the rice mixture to the breadcrumbed pan, pressing the rice up the sides of the pan, leaving a deep well in the middle – there should be a thick layer of rice covering the bottom and sides, about 2/3 of the way up the pan. Scrape the cooked meat or vegetables into the well in the rice
Cover with the remaining rice mixture and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle over plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano and a couple of handfuls of the remaining breadcrumbs. Bake for 40-60 minutes, until the edges of the bomba have pulled away from the sides of the pan
Remove from the oven and run a knife around the sides of the bomba di riso to make sure it is loose
Cover the top with your serving plate and quickly (but carefully!) tip the whole thing over so the pan is upside down and the plate is on the bottom. Gently shake the pan to make sure the entire bomba di riso has loosened, then lift away
Serve thick slices of the bomba di riso, cut like a birthday cake, to rapturous applause
First published in 2015

Specialising in vegetarian food, Nancy has cooked her way around Europe and now writes full time for publications and her blog, Delicious from Scratch.

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