Risotto Milanese with saffron and Parmesan

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A big warm comforting hug: silky, creamy and rich Risotto Milanese. It is a bit laborious to make, but it is worth the effort, believe me! You will get satisfied-you have to keep the cooking process under strict control, which makes you appreciate every single step of the preparation.

This recipe reminds me of my childhood when my dad used to cook risotto on Sundays. It comes from Lombardy, in the North of Italy, where my dad was born and it is a typical Sunday dish, as it takes quite a long time to prepare-slow down your life pace and enjoy this tempting delicacy!

Where does risotto originally come from?

Several anecdotes and interesting stories deal with Risotto Milanese- according to the most famous one, it was born in 1574, as a joke which took place at the wedding reception of the daughter of a Flemish painter who was working at the glass windows in the Duomo of Milan. The legend says that Zafferano (saffron in Italian), the painter’s assistant, used to add some spices to his colors to make them brighter. At the wedding reception, Zafferano’s habit conquered the kitchen too, and as a joke, he made the cook add some saffron into the risotto which used to be season only with butter. The guests surprisingly appreciated it since saffron had not only added a bright color, but also plenty of flavor. Moreover, its golden color was regarded as the symbol of wealth and prosperity! 

What is Risotto Milanese made of?

This very old recipe used to be made of some ingredients which are not very common nowadays (or at least, I do not use myself): rice, onion, meat broth, Parmigiano reggiano cheese, butter, saffron, and bone marrow, which is not used in homemade risotto recipe any more, but  the most traditional restaurants in Lombardy still add it.

What does saffron risotto taste like?

It has got a really unique taste. First, you enjoy the is rich, creamy, silky texture of the rice, then you taste the slightly bitter flavor of the saffron.

Is Risotto Milanese vegetarian?

The genuine recipe wants some animal source foods, so it can’t be considered as a vegetarian or vegan dish. The most modern home-made recipes use only ingredients from vegetable sources, save butter and Parmigiano cheese which are allowed in the vegetarian diet.

What does saffron add to a dish?

Saffron is the most antique spice. It has been used to cook since Egyptian times; it also  appeared in several records of ancient Greek and Roman dishes.

Saffron is both used as natural seasoning and coloring agent thanks to its bright red-orange shade. It has got a slightly bitter taste, a sharp smell, it is highly coloring, as well. You have to use really little saffron: it does not change the naturale taste of the ingredients but it gently enhances them.

The easiest way to deal with saffron is using the powder which is less aromatic of course; saffron threads guarantee an unforgettable results. It is not difficult to handle but you have to know a few hints.

First crumble and steep the threads in half a cup of lukewarm (be careful: not hot) liquid water, broth, cream, or milk for over 40 minutes. This process will release all its chromatic and aromatic properties.

How much is a pinch of saffron?

0,25 of saffron threads is enough: it is a very very little quantity. Few of us have a precision scale in our kitchen, it is about 15 threads. Of course, you can’t count them, you would go crazy. Rely on your sight: it will give you the right serving. Then 10 or 20 does not make a big difference, however 20 is better than 10, but do not exaggerate. Too much saffron may provoke gastrointestinal disorders-you would not appreciate your risotto very much.

Can you replace saffron?

I do not think so, saffron is unique. Turmeric or American saffron often replace it, but they have a slightly similar bitter taste, but they color is completely different.

What is the best pan to cook risotto in?

You should use a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan with high sides; if you have one, a copper pan would be perfect, as it transfers the heat to the rice and to all the other ingredients evenly. In this way, you don’t have to stir your risotto too often, you won’t break it, and it won’t get sticky. You will serve a wonderful risotto.

What kind of rice do you use for Risotto Milanese?

Opt only for high quality rice: Arborio or Carnaroli, definitely.

Rice is divided into over 8 thousand kinds according to the length, the shape, and the features of the grain: short, medium, long, oval, round.

Arborio rice best fits this recipe: its pulp short white grain may absorb a significant quantity of liquid without losing its compact texture. It is the most refined kind of rice. 

Its medium grain easily maintains its compact texture, but it gets sticky and when it cools off. So, serve and eat your risotto as soon it is done. When it gets cold, it loses its taste and texture.

Long grain rice, basmati for instance, can’t be used for this recipe because its long grains are too tender and it gets sticky when it is cooked and stirred too long as Risotto Milanese needs.

Not even wholesome brown rice can be used as it takes too long time to be done: you may easily undercook your risotto-hard rice grains get indigestible.

Is Arborio rice good for you?

Rice is a precious source of magnesium and vitamins such as niacin, vitami B6, thiamin, and mineral salts-potassium, phosphor, zinc, and copper, but it is not very rich in proteins because it lacks lysine.  On the other hand, rice is very easy to digest.

Can I boil Arborio rice?

If you want to cook risotto Milanese perfectly you can’t boil it, but you have to toast in the pan to make it crispy and not to lose its starch during the cooking. When is rice toasted? Put the dorsal side of your hand over the pan (do not burn yourself): when it gets very hot, rice is well toasted.

Rice is then cooked by adding some broth, its starch swells and the grains get soft and easy to digest. Add only hot broth a little a time not to stop the cooking.

The most important things of all: do not rinse rice before cooking it, otherwise you will lose the healthy substances on the surface of the grains; rice will lose its compact texture. The result? A sticky mass!

Do you have to cook risotto with the lid? Not at all!

Risotto is cooked in a pan without lid. It must be stirred the least as possible, and kept soft by adding hot broth for an even cooking. Broth also prevents rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.   

Do you have to stir risotto constantly? Just a little and with a wooden spoon.

Stir risotto very little: if you touch the rice grains too much, the starch is lost. As a result you risotto will be sticky. If you cook risotto in a copper pan, you will have to stir it less; on the other hands, steel pans make the rice stick to the bottom more easily. You can’t “save” your risotto once it has stuck to the bottom: get ready to work hard with a sponge to get  the pan cleaned.

How do you know when your risotto is done?

First taste it when it is almost ready! Risotto usually takes about 15-20 minutes to be done: start timing when you add the broth for the first time. It is done when it is compact but soft at the bite. The texture is a personal matter, it is up to your taste.

Keep in mind the following hints:

  • Cut down on broth and reduce the cooking time if you like a more compact risotto, or increase them if you want it softer and creamier;
  • If you do not serve risotto right away, reduce the cooking time;
  • If you have added too much broth, increase to high heat to make it evaporate; be careful: it may stick to the bottom easily.

Can you overcook risotto?

When you first prepare risotto, you may overcook it, because you don’t know the right cooking  times. It depends on the kind of rice, and on your liking; it usually takes 15 minutes.

To make sure about the right cooking, the only way to know is checking. So, taste it after 10-12 minutes: just a few grains. When rice is softened, it is done and ready to be served.

A perfect “mantecatura” makes your risotto delicious. How can you cook it until  impeccably creamy.

Mantecare means to cook until creamy: it is much more than stirring. You have to remove the pan from the heat and add some butter or a fat ingredient when the rice is done.

That’s what you have to do:

  • add cold butter which makes risotto unforgettably creamy;
  • add high quality grated cheese, Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano. Do not exaggerate with the quantity: risotto must preserve its natural tastes;
  • Remove the risotto from the heat, leave it rest for a couple of minutes and then add cold butter and Parmigiano, stir well and cover with a lid. Let it sit for another couple of minutes; 
  • Move the pan vigorously and stir gently with a wooden spoon not to crash the rice grains. This final operation makes the risotto more uniform and creamier.

How can you serve risotto?

Differently from other dishes, risotto must be served in a cold plate, due to the long cooking time, its grains keep hot for long time. So, bring in mind: cold plate for an unforgettable risotto.

What can you serve risotto with?

Risotto is a dish you may enjoy at the weekend, or on holiday, so it may be well paired with stuffed veal or turkey roll and cooked vegetables such as sautéed spinach. This is the most traditional Sunday lunch.

For a fresher taste, combine it with a crispy salad, or raw vegetables, or fresh grilled red radicchio.

Can you have risotto the next day?

Yes, of course. Risotto is even better if eaten the following day. Heat risotto in a saucepan and toast it a little: the crunchy texture will make it even more toothsome. Risotto keeps up to 2 days in the fridge in an airtight container.

This recipe belongs to Nonna Marianna, my granny from Lombardia. Unfortunately, I didn’t use to spend a lot of time with her, because she lived far from my house, but she was a fantastic cook. Her dishes were full of flavors, and yes, very rich. It took some hours to digest her Saturday dinners. Her speciality? Definitely, the authentic risotto with saffron from Lombardy. Well, I know, it is not low-calorie at all!

This is a lighter interpretation of the well-know traditional recipe. The only missing thing is the beef mallow which makes the recipe special, but I prefer not to use it. Do you fancy it? Well, read the recipe below!

Risotto Milanese with saffron and Parmesan

This recipe belongs to Nonna Marianna, my granny from Lombardia. Unfortunately, I didn’t use to spend a lot of time with her, because she lived far from my house, but she was a fantastic cook. Her dishes were full of flavors, and yes, very rich. It took some hours to digest her Saturday dinners. Her speciality? Definitely, the authentic risotto with saffron from Lombardy. Well, I know, it is not low-calorie at all! 
This is a lighter interpretation of the well-know traditional recipe. The only missing thing is the beef mallow which makes the recipe special, but I prefer not to use it. Do you fancy itt? Well, reds the recipe below! 
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword milanese risotto with saffron, risotto milanese, risotto with saffron
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings 2 people

Ingredients

  • 180 gr Rice
  • a pinch

    saffron thread (or a teaspoon of saffron powder)

  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 glass dry white wine
  • vegetable or meat broth

  • 20 gr grated Parmigiano Cheese
  • 60-80 gr butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Steep the saffron threads into lukewarm water for about 2-3 hours (overnight would be better);
  • Bring the stock to a boil;
  • In a saucepan heat 20 g of butter over high heat, and add the thinly sliced onion until softened. 
  • When the onion is tender but not colored, lower to medium heat and pour the rice stirring to thoroughly coat. Simmer with white wine until reduced. 
  • After about 10 minutes crumble the saffron into a ladle of stock, season with salt. 
  • Continue adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions.
  • 5 minutes before the end of cooking time, pour the water with the saffron threads, stir well to color the risotto evenly. If use saffron power just mix in pinto a ladder of warm broth and add it to the risotto;
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and the cheese. 
  • Cover with the lid, let stand for a minute.
  • Serve very hot, in a cold plate! 
  • This is an authentic recipe from the North of Italy: Risotto is well cooked if it is “all’onda” (like a wave): the rice is suspended in a creamy sauce, it should flow a little if you move the saucepan.

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