OK, just to tease Chris before his quest for saffron bears fruit, here is a continuation of the theme of that most divine of spices.
This recipe is one of the Brianza-region variants of the famous Risotto alla Milanese, one of Northern Italy’s most beloved dishes–and consequently more subject to provincial variations.
Ingredients for 4 people (planning on having leftovers–keep reading):
- 5 Generous cups of Arborio rice. When preparing risotto, absolutely NEVER use the Indian or Chinese varieties, unless you plan on boiling the rice (as you would pasta) and then add the sauce. Which lends an OK result for a quick informal dinner, but not much more.
- A scoop of good butter.
- Half a softball-sized onion, chopped in fairly small pieces.
- A generous pinch of saffron, in powder or pounded in a small mortar.
- A fresh leaf of sage.
- One abundant half glass of good red wine–this is the principal substitute in the Brianza version: the traditional Milanese dish features instead marrow.
- A quart of good beef broth.
- Grated Grana cheese (or Parmigiano, but not Pecorino)
First things first: boil the broth, and stir the saffron in it until the broth has a nice golden color. Important: keep the broth piping hot–I normally keep it in a small pot on the stove with the heated ladle ready in waiting while I prepare the risotto. Cold broth is the #1 cause for failed risotti worldwide.
Melt the butter in a casserole, and sautee the onion together with the sage. When the onion is blonde, add the rice and “toast” it for a couple minutes. Then, add the wine, raise the flame and, stirring often, let it evaporate until you no can longer smell it. Lower the flame and immediately add a couple ladles of hot broth, just enouth to soak the rice. Keep stirring, and when you notice that the broth is almost absorbed, add more broth. Keep doing this until the risotto is cooked but still very al dente–which will take about 20 minutes, then serve immediately after pre-grating some cheese in the serving bowl.
If desired, you can sprinkle some flakes of good butter on the risotto before serving (this is called “Mantecare” the risotto). Make sure the risotto, when presented, is fluffed up–we call this “all’onda” or “wavy-style.” The quickest way to betray yourself as a “Tarlucken” (a dismissive term we generically apply to our Transalpine neighbors) is to use your fork–or worse, your spoon–to pat the rice flat on your dish. 😉
Tuck in, and enjoy with some good wine–white or red, as you please, depending on what you are having as a second course. OK, at this point, you will be thinking: my, that’s a lot of rice for four people. And you’d be right. When we make this risotto, we always plan on having a generous amount of leftover. Here’s what you do with the leftover (Chris & Katie, you’ll love this).
Take all the leftover risotto and place in a deep bowl in the refrigerator, covered so that it doesn’t absorb other flavors from the neighboring items. When you are ready to taste some more delicious saffron, do the following:
Break a couple eggs, and put them, raw, in a shallow bowl. Take the rice, and if you want, grate a little (A LITTLE) nutmeg in it and a bit of unflavored breadcrumbs–best if home-made from grating stale bread really fine. Using your hands, make some small football-shaped balls with the rice (about 3″ long), nice and compact, roll them in the egg and dunk them in a frying pan full of hot olive oil. When they are golden and crisp on the outside, place them on a serving dish on which you will have spread some absorbing tissue paper (many Italians don’t like greasy dishes). This leftover recipe is called Suppli’ and, together with the “Frittata di pasta” is one of the most popular ways in which to reuse a meal–because of our Catholic imprint, we Italians prefer not to throw away food (especially bread!!), which is always a “gift” from the Almighty.