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Risotto Alla Milanese

Risotto Alla Milanese

  It was 1972 and I was traipsing through Italy, stopping long enough in Milan to meet my Italian aunts and uncles for the first time. I rang the bell and the voice from the citòfono (intercom) instructed me to climb three floors. Scrambling up the stairs, I arrived at a doorway and found myself staring into the eyes of someone who looked vaguely familiar. “Zia Carmen?” I asked. It’s an eerie feeling to be looking at someone you’ve never met before but who looks just like your mom. That’s how it felt when I met my Aunt Carmen for the first time. She and Uncle Mario welcomed me into their apartment and for one week shepherded me around Milan and introduced me to a dish that has become one of my all-time favorite comfort foods – risotto alla Milanese.

It’s ubiquitous on menus there and it’s not at all hard to make. The important thing is to use really good ingredients – good saffron, like that grown in Navelli, the heart of saffron territory in Abruzzo; homemade chicken stock and a really fine, aged parmigiano cheese.
The photo above was taken a few weeks ago at one of my favorite Milanese restaurants, called “Nabucco.” Their risotto alla Milanese is everything it should be — creamy, with rich flavors of saffron, butter and parmigiano. The photo is not doctored up at all – their risotto is really that golden yellow color. Beef marrow is classically used in the recipe too, but it’s something I usually omit since it’s not readily available at my markets and I never think to order it ahead of time. It’s still pretty delicious without it.
Milan is often overlooked by tourists to Italy, and truth be told, it’s not on my top five places to visit in Italy, either. But even after visiting the city dozens of times, I never get tired of its magnificent duomo and even found new things to see this year too.
 To get the full experience of the duomo, take the elevator up to the roof and meander among the gargoyles. You’ll feel like the Italian version of “Quasimodo” in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Look down from the roof into the archway of the beautiful Galleria, then stroll through it and gander at the shops, including Prada and Luisa Spagnoli.
Make sure to leave time for an Aperol Spritz at the rooftop bar right across from the duomo just outside the Feltrinelli bookstore. You can’t beat the view, and the munchies that come with the drinks makes the cost worthwhile.
The Castello Sforzesco is always worth a visit, for the various museums housed in its many wings. You’ll even find one of Michelangelo’s sculptures there in the Museum of Ancient Art – the Rondanini Pietà.
 One of the most famous art works in the world is housed in the refectory here at Santa Maria della Grazia – Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
 But if you don’t have any luck in securing a ticket, (or even if you do), don’t miss the strikingly beautiful frescoes in the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, including this last supper painting by followers of DaVinci.
It’s low on tourists’ radar, but San Maurizio, which has been dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of Milan” deserves wider recognition. I’ve been coming to Milan for more than 40 years and yet had not seen this stunning place until last month. I’m glad I stumbled upon it this year.
 If you are lucky enough to be in Milan during opera or ballet season, be sure to buy tickets to a performance.  You’ll feel like royalty, even if you’re not sitting in the royal box. Even if you haven’t bought tickets ahead of time, you can sometimes get them last minute from “bagarini” or scalpers, just outside the box office. You might pay less than $75 a ticket this way, but warning: you’ll be seated in nosebleed territory.
There’s so much more to see and do in Milan. I have barely scratched the surface. But above all, leave time (and money) for shopping. You’ll be dizzy with all the options, from the shops on Via Dante and Corso Buenos Aires to the heady, expensive boutiques on Via Montenapoleone.

Risotto Alla Milanese
printable recipe here
2 shallots, medium, finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
3 T. butter, plus 2 T. more for the “mantecato” at the end
3 T. olive oil
2 cups arborio, vialone or carnaroli rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups (or maybe 7) of chicken stock, heated
2 packets of saffron threads (or powdered saffron – I buy these in Italy and they come in small packets of .100 grams each, but they’re available at gourmet food stores or fine Italian grocery stores)
1/2 cup – 1 cup parmesan cheese
beef marrow, optional

Sauté the shallots in 3 T. butter and 3 T. oil until softened. If using beef marrow, add it here. Add the rice and stir a few minutes at low heat until you see a little translucency on the grains, then add the saffron and stir a minute or two more. Turn the heat to medium and add the white wine and stir some more. Then add small ladlefuls of the chicken stock, stirring continuously. When it looks like the rice has absorbed each ladleful, add more stock, and continue doing this for about 20 minutes or so, until the rice is cooked, but not overcooked. I prefer it to have some “tooth” to it. I also like it a little loose, so I have extra stock on hand. If you run out, use hot water (but only if you need a small amount.) When it’s at the right consistency, turn off the heat and whip in 2 T. butter and the parmesan cheese and stir well before serving.

This Post Has 16 Comments
  1. Linda, you get to have all the fun! You are so Lucky and get to go back to Italy, especially to see Milan again. What a beautiful city! Love this risotto and it happen to be one of our favorite as well! We'll order this dish every time we visit Milan too.
    Thanks for the recipe! Have a great week!
    Warmly, Anna and Liz

  2. Perfect risotto! I never get that golden color – must mean I am stingy with the saffron. Loved the tour of Milan (have been lucky enough to go there a few times and make it to the opera). Have never seen The Last Supper. Always "on strike" each time I was there – decades apart! The beauty of it all made me smile.

  3. You know, I just saw an article saying that Milan was overrated. I'd say just the opposite, it gets an unfairly bad rap. Sure, it's not one of the more beautiful Italian cities, at least not at first glance, but there is much hidden beauty there, as a Milanese friend once told me. And to my mind, you can find some of the most exquisite restaurants in Italy there.

  4. Ciao Linda! Beautiful pics of Milano! The best saffron in all of Italy is available here in the USA, DOP Zafferano dell’Aquila made by Navelli. To get 1 kilo of saffron they pick 250,000 flowers! But it's worth it because it is truly the best! Do you know it?

  5. Wow, that looks so luscious and creamy! All your pictures are beautiful and it brings back memories of our Italy trip. We were only in Milano for
    1 1/2 days but I still remember the most delicious porcini risotto I ever had and an appetizer bar to die for!

  6. What glorious risotto! I remember the first time I made this dish I was just floored by the sumptuous color. What really got me was how when I added the crushed saffron the risotto just popped with golden color. Also I remember that I crushed the saffron threads in my mortar and pestle and I was greeted with a wonderfully intoxicating iodoform and haylike perfume. After I dumped the crushed saffron into the risotto, I saw that there was plenty left in the mortar. Not wanting to waste it, I swished some of the white wine into the mortar to rinse it, and oh, again, that color just grabbed me. As soon as the wine hit the crushed saffron, it exploded into an absolute riot of color. No wonder it is so prized. It really is a remarkable spice.

    It certainly looks like you had the grand tour of Milan. What a city, and it's THE perfect place to enjoy Aperol and Campari – no doubt about that!

  7. The two times I've visited Italy I flew into Rome and flew home from Milan. I was fortunate to see the "Last Supper" in 1971 — I would love to see it again with it's restoration completed. The cathedral of Milan is magnificent! Were all the pigeons still out front?

    Your Rissotoo Alla Milanese looks fabulous!

  8. I loved reading this post because Milan IS on our next trip to Italy in 2 years. I did not know the Cathedral was next to the Galleria! Great! I enjoyed walking through the beauty of Milan through your perfect photos! I have the Milan Opera House on our must-do list too! Risotto alla Milanese, in my opinion, is the perfect risotto and I love it so. I did not know about the bone marrow addition, which I'm sure really takes the flavor over the top! Thank you also for all of the names of places to see and experience on our next trip which will be entirely in Northern Italy and Bavaria (for my husband's German heritage).

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  10. […] Fazzoletti (the Italian word for handkerchiefs) is a pasta I’ve been wanting to make for a long time, after eating it years ago at Le Virtù, a favorite Philadelphia restaurant. I finally got in the fazzoletti-making mode a couple of weeks ago and decided to channel fall flavors, with sausage and mushrooms in the sauce. But to kick it up a further notch, I added saffron to the dough. Saffron is expensive here in the states, but a little goes a long way. It’s a lot less expensive in Italy, and it’s much fresher if you buy it near the source (Abruzzo is famous for its saffron from Navelli). So whenever I’m in Italy, I buy saffron, whether in a pretty little ceramic container, as I bought in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, or in paper packages, that you can find in any supermarket in the country. One of my very favorite ways to use it is in the classic risotto alla Milanese, a recipe I wrote about here. […]

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