Risotto alla Milanese
Region: Italy, Lombardy
Category: Rice, Couscous, and Other Grains
Difficulty: Easy but labor intensive
Risotto alla milanese is a saffron risotto and the traditional accompaniment to ossobuco. The Venetian Jews once made an identical preparation simply called riso col zafran. I believe that the dish was once a kind of saffron pilaf known among the Jews and Arabs of medieval Sicily who traveled north or traded with the north.
As early as the sixteenth century, the Renaissance chef Cristoforo da Messisburgo had claimed in his Libro novo [nel qual s’insegna a far d’ogni sorte di vivande secondo la diversità de I tempi così di carne come di pesce] that he thought risotto con lo zaffrano (which he called riso all Ciciliana) was born in Sicily (see Note). Older recipes for this risotto often stipulated that cervellata, a Milanese sausage of pork sirloin with pork and veal fat, pig’s brain (hence the name of the sausage), Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and spices such as saffron and nutmeg, should be used.
[photo: risotto alla milanese with ossobuco, Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Preparation Time: 1 hour
1. In a large, heavy saucepan or casserole, melt 1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) of the butter and cook the onion and bone marrow together over medium heat until the onion is translucent, 7 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in the wine and continue cooking until the wine is nearly evaporated. Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to evenly coat the grains.
2. Add 1 cup of the boiling broth, season with salt, and stir. Once the liquid evaporates, pour in another 1/2 cup of broth. Continue adding broth in smaller and smaller amounts as it evaporates and is absorbed and cook until the rice is between al dente and tender, stirring almost constantly.
3. A few minutes before the rice is done, add the diluted saffron and stir. Add the remaining 1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter and the cheese and stir. Cover and leave the risotto for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with more Parmigiano.
Note: These notes are for readers interested in pursuing this history further: Messisburgo [also Christofaro di Messisbugo] was published in Venice in 1557 (see p. 72 of the Arnaldo Forni edition in Testi Antichi de Gastronomia no. 2 published in 1982). My claim is not new, see Denti di Pirajno, Alberto. Siciliani a tavola: itinerario gastronomico da messina a porto empedocle. Milano: Longanesi, 1970, page 134, and Maffioli, Giuseppe. La cucina veneziana. Padua: Franco Muzzio, 1982, page 222. Also see, for the growing of saffron and rice in Arab Sicily, the extracts of Yaqut’s (b. 1178) Mu’gham al-buldan and al-Qazwini’s (c. 1203-83) Atar al-bilad (Notable things in countries and news about men) in Amari, Michele, ed. Biblioteca arabo-sicula. versione italiana. Torino: Ermanno Loescher, 1880-81, vol. (1) page 201 and vol. (2) page 238, par. 140 as well as al-Muqqadasi’s description of Sicilian saffron cited in Lewis, Archibald R. Naval Power and Trade in the Mediterranean, A.D. 500-1100. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951, page 211 and Wright, Clifford A. Cucina Paradiso: The Heavenly Food of Sicily. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992, page 111.