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Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto alla Milanese

It may be a north-Italian favourite, but this buttery dish has its roots further south

It may be a north-Italian favourite, but this buttery dish has its roots further south

Lucy Malouf | February/March 2017

Risotto, when prepared alla Milanese is, perhaps, the purest expression of this northern Italian favourite. There is nothing superfluous; it is as elegant and restrained as an Armani suit. This allows the key components to sing, but also tests the skill of the maker. Indeed, this particular culinary alchemy depends on little more than rice, stock and a good pinch of crocus stamens.

How risot giald became one of Milan’s signature dishes is uncertain: the requisite short-grained rice varietals and saffron flowers began to be cultivated and extensively traded in northern Italy in the late Middle Ages, but Clifford A. Wright, an American food writer, traces its origins farther south, where riso col zafran was a popular pilaf with the Jews and Arabs of medieval Sicily.

The Milanese prefer a more romantic explanation, linking the dish to the construction of the Duomo. Legend has it that on the wedding day of the master glazier’s daughter, a young apprentice – nicknamed Zafferano, on account of the vibrant colours he achieved by adding saffron to the stained-glass pigments – struck on the idea of sprinkling it into the wedding rice, turning it as golden as the cathedral’s windows.

Whatever its origins, the rules for making risotto alla Milanese are straightforward and begin – as does all risotto – with the rice. Claudio Ceriotti, the chef of Legnano’s Koinè Restaurant, recommends a starchy superfino, like carnaroli. Add it to a little onion, diced to grain size and softened to glistening translucency in butter. Next, a good, home-made chicken or beef stock kept simmering and ladled onto the rice, little by little, until absorbed.

The saffron is not just there for its looks: the flavour must be discernible. That means using quality threads, rather than powder. A Milanese might select Zafferano dell’Aquila from the Abruzzo region; you should use the best you can find. Add at the start for maximum impact.

Rest the risotto before beating in grated parmesan and butter for the creamy finish. How much butter? More than seems arterially healthy. But then, to paraphrase Anna Del Conte, if you don’t want to eat butter, pick a different dish.

Serve alone or alongside osso buco. You could ape Ceriotti and add diced beef marrow; or copy Gualtiero Marchesi, the original Italian masterchef, and gild with gold leaf.

Readers' comment

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LauraLeopardoDelleSide - February 28th 2017

Risotto Giallo or Risotto Milanese con Ossobuco is really an elegant dish. You can find a special zafferano in Sulmona and also the Italian confetti with almonds. And, you know, Bella Italia has a lot, a lot of delicious different Risotti. Especially, it's true, in North of Italy , bat not only, you can taste them. So , come on , we are waiting for you. Enjoy the colors and the fragrances of Italy !