Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In the beginning there was risotto...

Not all rice is created equal. There is rice and then there is risotto. And although I enjoy rice dishes as much as the next person, risotto is a whole different story. I don’t just ‘like it’. I love it, crave it, dream of it.

Risotto has its origins in northern Italy, where rice paddies are abundant and the inclement winter weather is conductive to a richer, heavier cuisine than in the south. I, also, have my origins in northern Italy. As a child I didn’t enjoy eating, but risotto was one of the few dishes that always made me happy. There was something about the creaminess of the cheese binding the grains, the pungent taste of saffron, the festive yellow color that was so inviting and comforting even my five-year-old self couldn’t help but love it.

Risotto with saffron is one of the pillars of Milanese cuisine and northern Italians take much pride in serving it to their guests. While we enjoy being creative in the kitchen and experimenting with food and ingredients, when it comes to risotto we stick to tradition and we follow the few basic rules that make this dish special. I guess that being born and raised in Milano makes me somewhat of a risotto snob. Growing up in a family where making it is considered an art makes me take it even more seriously. “When you order risotto anywhere but in Northern Italy you’re asking for trouble,” my father used to say as I watched him stirring the rice. Risotto was always –and still is- his thing. My mother would prep the ingredients, but she never made it. It was dad’s specialty and everyone –relatives, neighbors, friends- knew it. We still gather around the kitchen island as he makes it, just like he did when I was a child. The risotto, too, is just the same: creamy, tasty, delicious.

His risotto alla Milanese is an easy, guaranteed to be great recipe that anyone can master. It’s a simplified version that doesn’t require bone marrow, which is delicious, but not always easy to find. Follow a few basic rules and your risotto will turn out a smashing success. And remember: in this recipes NO SUBSTITUTIONS ARE ALLOWED! =)

RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE (Milanese style risotto)

Ingredients for 4:
12 ounces risotto rice
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 cups of beef broth
1 onion, minced
1 tsp saffron
1cup dry white wine
1 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Make broth with cubes and keep warm.

In a large, thick Dutch oven (I like to use an extra heavy, enamel coated pot I use exclusively for risotto) melt half the butter with two tablespoons of olive oil on medium high. Add the minced onion and cook until translucent and tender but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Add rice, stir, and toast for about a minute. Add white wine, stir and let it evaporate, then pour two ladles of hot broth to the pot and turn the heat down to medium. Stir and cook until the broth has been absorbed. Every time the liquid is almost gone add another ladle of broth, doing so until the rice is almost done. Stir often.

When the rice is almost cooked (you’ll notice because it looks bigger and thicker or you can taste a grain or two to make sure), melt saffron in one last ladle of broth, add to the rice and stir.
Remove from heat, add butter and ¾ cup of grated parmesan cheese, stir vigorously, cover and let rest for 4 or five minutes. Serve hot, sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and with remaining parmesan on the side.

If you want you can add some crumbled, sauted Italian sausage at the very end (pictured above)


  1. My family still talks about your dad's risotto to this day. He taught my dad how to make it, and we follow "his way" religiously. It's so simple, and I've never had a restaurant risotto that comes close. I'll try the Italian sausage variant next time I get the chance to make this!

  2. I can't wait for the winter to have a god excuse to cook risotto... it's so damn hot here right now that it doesn't even sound appetizing! As soon as it cools off I'll cook (and post) more risotto recipes... it's one of my favorite foods in the world.



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