Published with permission from LuxuryWeb Magazine
There’s nothing quite like the allure of a beautifully-cooked rice dish, and in my kitchen, risottos, paellas, and pilafs frequently grace the table. Among these, Risotto alla Milanese holds a special place — embodying the rich culinary heritage of Lombardy, in northern Italy. Though the prospect of crafting the perfect risotto may seem daunting, I’ve discovered that with the correct ingredients and a little finesse, it’s a dish that can be effortlessly mastered, offering rewards that far outweigh the effort.
In Milan, and indeed throughout Italy, aficionados of this dish are spoiled for choice, with food shops offering several varieties of short-grain rice suitable for risotto. Arborio rice is ubiquitous, but I was intrigued by Carnaroli and Vialone Nano, two other varieties that are staples on Italian tables.
Curious about the differences, I embarked on a culinary experiment, purchasing all three types for a comparative taste test. It’s worth noting that long-grain varieties, such as Indian Basmati or American Texmati, don’t make the cut for an authentic risotto.
Bursting with flavor
I prepared three separate batches of risotto, each using a different rice variety but maintaining consistency in all other aspects of the recipe. The objective was to discern any variations in flavor or texture. This exercise confirmed that risotto is indeed a dish of luxury, where even subtle changes are significant.
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While the differences were primarily textural rather than flavor-based, they were nonetheless enlightening. Arborio rice tended to become slightly mushy, losing some of its distinctiveness toward the end of cooking. In contrast, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano preserved their integrity, melding beautifully with the creamy sauce. The saffron, the signature element of Milanese risotto, imparted its exquisite flavor uniformly across all three versions.
Venturing into Risotto alla Milanese requires a willingness to procure saffron, but the simplicity of the recipe is surprising. When executed with care, the dish emerges with a mesmerizing aroma of saffron, each grain of rice enveloped in a creamy, orange-yellow hue. The key lies in using warm stock, added gradually to the rice, ensuring not to rush the process. The ideal cooking time is around 22 minutes, culminating in rice that is perfectly al dente.
- 5 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred, but Swanson Broth is a suitable alternative)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups short-grain rice (about 10 ounces)
- A generous pinch of saffron threads
- 2/3 cup dry white wine (Turbiana from Lugana is an excellent choice)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- In a saucepan, warm the chicken stock over low heat.
- Dissolve the saffron in the wine, stirring until the mixture takes on a saffron hue.
- Heat the olive oil in a cast iron pot. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until softened, about 4-5 minutes.
- Stir in the rice, ensuring each grain is well coated, and cook for a minute.
- Pour in the saffron-infused wine, cooking and stirring until it’s almost fully absorbed by the rice.
- Gradually add the stock, one cup at a time, stirring continuously until each addition is almost absorbed.
- Continue this process until the rice is al dente and enveloped in a rich, creamy sauce, about 20-22 minutes. Season to taste.
- Finally, incorporate the cheese, butter, and parsley, then serve immediately.
Indulge in this delightful dish and let each bite transport you to the vibrant streets of Milan, where the essence of Risotto alla Milanese awaits. Enjoy!
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