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Antico Ristorante Fossati

 For more than 40 years, I’ve been traveling to Italy but had never visited Monza, a hidden jewel just a short distance from Milan. That is, until a few weeks ago, when my friend Silvia Cassamagnaghi invited us to dinner nearby.
Silvia grew up in Monza, but recently moved to Milan, where she teaches at a university there. I met her many years ago when she was researching her book “Operation War Brides,” which features a photo of my parents on the cover and their love story during World War II.
     In the past, we had always met briefly in Milan, or in the countryside near Piacenza where my relatives live, but this time we met in Monza, a city that’s unfortunately not on most tourists’ agenda. But it should be, including this restaurant in the countryside.
Silvia took us to “Antico Ristorante Fossati,” a place that features traditional dishes of Lombardy, in a building with a great historical pedigree.
Located in a nearby hamlet of Canonica, the restaurant was once the country home where Ludovico “Il Moro” came to hunt. Ludovico, a member of the noble Sforza family, was duke of Milan from 1494 to 1499 and is probably best known as a patron to the arts. He’s the one who commissioned Leonardo DaVinci’s fresco “The Last Supper,” painted in Santa Maria della Grazia, next to his father’s burial place.
With its vaulted brick ceilings, thick stone walls and walk-in fireplaces, Antico Ristorante Fossati evoked the feeling that we had traveled back in time hundreds of years. It’s been used as a way station for centuries, and has offered refreshment to other notable Italian personalities like Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The restaurant is in a large farmhouse, made up of many different rooms and an internal garden. One of the lofts, that most likely stored hay or other animal fodder in the past, now houses a collection of gleaming copper pots. I wanted to climb up and take home a few.
A peek into the modern kitchen tells you the pots are more than just for show.
Many of the dishes are delivered and served table side from these pots with their time-worn patina, dents and dings.
They’re also heaped above huge antique cabinets situated throughout the rooms.
We started with a typical antipasto selection from the region — sliced meats (affettati) including salami, prosciutto and culatello (made from the pig’s hind quarters and even more flavorful than prosciutto); pickled vegetables; “Russian” potato salad that you find all over Italy; polenta and local cheeses.
But the most memorable dish at the table was the plate in the upper left hand section of the photo called “nervetti.”
They’re a favorite comfort food of Silvia’s, evoking memories of her grandfather and childhood, and they’re a local specialty she insisted we try. I was a bit skeptical since the name sounds a lot like the English word “nerves.” In fact, that’s just what they were – nerves from a pig’s face. They were every bit as gelatinous and chewy as they seem. But when in Monza…..
My favorite dish was the specialty of the house. Risotto Monzese, which is just the same as risotto Milanese, but it includes a bit of a local sausage called luganega, or luganica. That’s a plate of osso buco behind the risotto, another delicious offering that also pairs well with the risotto.
The city of Monza itself has several sites worthy of a visit, including its main duomo, dating back to the seventh century, when the Lombard Queen Teodelinda is believed to have commissioned it.
The town hall was built in the 13th century, and was used for civic purposes. Art exhibits are sometimes held here, and the many cafes nearby are great gathering spots for a drink.
You’ll find most people doing their daily marketing on foot or on bike. This bicycle was equipped with baskets that seemed capable of toting home a week’s worth of groceries.
No trip to Monza would be complete without a visit to its royal palace — just one of the places that the royal Savoy family called home until 1900 after King Umberto I was assassinated near the entrance to the palace. He was married to Queen Margherita (for whom pizza Margherita was named)
We were fortunate to be there on the final day of a viewing of a newly discovered painting by Leonardo DaVinci. It was purchased at a Christie’s auction of $20,000 in 1998 and later authenticated to be a real DaVinci worth $200 million. It’s thought to be a portrait of Bianca, the daughter of Leonardo’s patron, Ludovico Il Moro, and has been dubbed “La Bella Principessa.” It’s now in private hands and who knows when it will be shown in public again.
If you do stay overnight, consider booking a room at a hotel called “Hotel De La Ville,” reasonably priced and located right across the street from the royal palace. Our room was in a separate small villa, with lovely furnishings and an elegant entrance straight out of a decorator’s magazine.
I found a guidebook inside our room that also included a recipe for Monza’s risotto specialty, included below.  It’s written with metric measurements, but for American measurements, click here for my recipe for risotto alla Milanese.
Monzese Risotto
From the book “Monza and Brianza with Brambilla’s Family”
Ingredients
(serves 4 people)b
350 grams Arborio rice
150 grams luganega sausage
1 sachet saffron
1 small onion
beef broth
butter
half a glass of white wine
Grana Padano cheese
salt
Preparation
Brown the finely chopped onion and sausage, without the casing, in butter in a deep pan. Add the rice and allow to roast for a few minutes. Sprinkle the rice with white wine and let it evaporate. At this point, pour the broth to cover the rice and cook it over medium/high heat. Halfway through cooking, add the saffron, dissolved in a spoonful of broth and mix well.  Continue cooking, making sure that the broth is always hot enough to not break the boil. At the end, add a knob of butter and grated Grana Padano cheese and mix thoroughly. Let it stand one minute and serve hot.

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.