Seeing and Savoring Lombardia in Northern Italy would not be complete without a plate of risotto alla Milanese. In this part of Italy rice, prepared as riso or risotto, is favored over pasta with notably French influences in the cooking and butter often used as a cooking fat. This recipe is from my mother in law, Marian by way of her mother in law, Epifania. Epifania, our Nonna (grandmother in Italian) was from a town in Northern Italy on the border between Lombardia and the Veneto with her extended family living in Milano.
Nonna and many of the women in her generation though not thought of as gourmet chefs now find the food they prepared as casalinga (homestyle cooking) served in upscale restaurants . When Nonna passed away she was 84 years old. She had no inheritance to speak of, no treasure chest full of stocks and bonds, no vacation homes or lavish jewelry. What I received was a small yellow box, a gastronomic treasure chest of Milanese recipes. It included a recipe that has been described in Waverly Root’s book The Food of Italy as a “preparation which seems to be made of grains of gold”. Here is our family recipe for risotto alla Milanese alla Nonna e Marian.
Saute1 large onion finely chopped in about 5 T of melted unsalted butter in a large heavy based saucepan ( I prefer non- stick).After the onion is softened and has taken on a golden color add 2 cups of risotto rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or semifino Vialone Nano). Nonna used arborio rice but also carnaroli when she could get it. Stir rice into butter, onion mixture until thoroughly coated but not brown. Slightly increase the heat and add 1 glass of white wine (Nonna never measured anything but most recipes take this to mean about ¾ cup to 1 cup), stirring the risotto as the wine is being absorbed.
A pinch of saffron can be added at this time or it can be infused in 6 cups of chicken broth that has been simmering on the stove in another pan. The saffron will give the risotto milanese its classic golden color. Some cooks add the saffron just before the end of the cooking process in order to maintain its delicate flavor.
At this point you will begin to slowly add the simmering chicken broth to the risotto, a ladleful at a time and cook the risotto over medium heat stirring constantly until it has absorbed the added broth. When the broth has been absorbed, add another ladleful and repeat the process. Continue like this until the rice can absorb no more.When is the risotto done? When the rice is of a creamy consistency yet the grains remain separate and al dente to the taste. Different types of rice vary in the way they absorb the liquid so Nonna would say “just keep stirring it until it is done”! Every risotto will be slightly different. But remember, you will be adding a handful of grated cheese and a pat of butter at the very end. The cheese will thicken up the risotto so do not allow all the moisture to be absorbed or you will have a paste.
Cheese should be a grated grana cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano