Every time I make risotto for my American friends they look at me like I’m serving them some kind of magical concoction. :-) It is instead a very simple dish to make and these are the reasons why I decided to publish this recipe:
1. Once you master the making process of this risotto (which I personally consider to be the basic one) you will be able to make any risotto. You can unleash your imagination in terms of ingredients and be as creative as you can.
2. I’m very fond of this risotto. My mother used to make it for us when I was a child (although it belongs to the Milan cuisine tradition). During the time that I spent working and living in Milan, I think I ate tons of saffron risotto in restaurants and households. Nowadays, famous master chefs are reinventing this wonderful dish by adding ingredients or changing the process, making you believe that they are revealing you the secret of the Holy Grail (and, of course, asking you an outrageous amount of money for such revelation!) This is something that I personally condemn. What’s wrong about continuing to cook a dish the traditional way, when the original recipe has been perfect for centuries? Thank goodness, there are still old trattorie in Milan that go way back and still serve you the real thing, letting your palate experience something unique.
3. There is a legend about the creation of this dish that is so lovely and amusing that I think it is worth sharing. It was 1574 and the Duomo in Milan was being built. A group of Belgian glass makers, under the direction of their master, Valerio of Fianders, were working on the stain-glass windows representing episodes of the life of St. Elena. One of Valerio’s apprentices was known for his ability to make wonderful colors. His secret? He used to add some saffron to the color mixture creating amazing chromatic effects. On September 8, 1574 the wedding of the daughter of master Valerio was being celebrated. This apprentice (some say as a joke, some say as a gift to the bride) came up with the idea of adding some saffron to the risotto that was going to be served during the nuptial meal. The result? The yellow risotto was a hit among the guests and this classic of the Milan cuisine was created.
Now, I could keep going telling you about the history of rice, how and when rice arrived in Italy and how it was cultivated, but I think I’ll stop here because this post is getting longer than a chapter in a Tolstoy book
Let me just tell you a couple of things before we get down to the recipe.
First, the kind of rice. The best kind of rice to make risotto is carnaroli rice (which along with arborio rice and vialone nano rice are the most common rice varieties that are used in making risotto). The best brand of carnaroli rice is called Acquerello. Easy to find? Not at all! Not even in Milan. I had to go to the “jewellers” (that’s what I call the very expensive grocery stores in Milan like Peck at Via Spadari) to buy the famous Acquerello round metallic box. Bottom line? I usually use the less expensive and easier to find arborio rice.
Second, the original recipe calls for beef marrow. Again, not easy to find… even in Italy. I used to order it from my butcher in advance. So if you happen to put your lucky hands on some beef marrow, just remember that you have to cut it off into small pieces and cook it along with the shallot before adding the rice.
1 and 3/4 of 1 Tbsp, butter
5.5 oz of Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 and 1/2 cups of beef stock
1 sachet of powdered saffron
2 and 1/2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese
Finely mince the shallot. In a medium-size non-stick pot, put 1 Tbsp of butter and the minced shallot and cook, over low heat, until the shallot softens. Add the rice and toss to coat for 1 to 2 minutes. We say that we ”toast” the rice. Pour the wine in and keep stirring until the wine evaporates completely.
Add two ladles of beef stock and cook, constantly stirring, until the stock is absorbed. Bear in mind that the stock must be very hot, otherwise cold stock will prevent the rice from cooking. When the beef stock has been absorbed, add another ladle of hot stock and keep cooking until absorbed, and then repeat the process adding more stock. About 9 minutes after the first addition of stock, separately melt the powdered saffron in a little stock and add it to the cooking rice.
Keep cooking, constantly stirring, and add the rest of the stock little by little until the rice is creamy and cooked al dente. This will take 18 to 20 minutes from the time the first ladle of stock is added. When you are about to remove the pot from the heat, taste the rice and salt if necessary.
Remove the pot from the heat, add 3/4 of 1 Tbsp of butter and stir until the butter is completely melted. Then, add 1 and 1/2 Tbsp of Parmigiano cheese and stir until you obtain a creamy risotto – we say that the risotto must make “waves”
Put the risotto into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the pecorino cheese.
Just a couple of extra suggestions before I leave you.
You can replace the shallot with onion. The cooking process is exactly the same as described above.
If you are using saffron pistils as opposed to powdered saffron, put the pistils in some hot stock. With the help of a strainer, drain the stock and add it to the rice. Set the pistils aside. When the risotto is ready to be served, add the pistils on top of the plate as a garnishment.