Pasta may be Italy’s most famous first course, but rice is equally key to Italian cuisine.
During the Renaissance, the swamps near Milano were turned into rice paddies, and rice has played a starring role ever since.
One of my favorite Milanese dishes is Saffron Risotto.
Yield: 4 servings
For the broth:
Piece of boiled beef
1 celery stalk
1 parsley stalk
Sea salt, to taste
For the risotto:
1 2/3 cups rice, preferably Carnaroli
Saffron, to taste
½ cup white wine
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Balsamic vinegar, to taste
½ medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
Sea salt & freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
To prepare the broth, combine all of the ingredients in a pot, and cover with cold water, and bring to a boil for at least two hours, or until the meat is tender.
Season the broth with salt, and keep the pot simmering while preparing the risotto.
In a medium saucepan, heat about 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat, and add the onion, sautéing until it becomes soft and translucent, about 2o minutes.
Add the rice to the pan, and toast it, stirring constantly, until it becomes fragrant.
Add the white wine, and stir until it has evaporated and the rice is translucent with just a small pearl visible in the center of the grain.
Add 1 ladleful of the broth, stirring until all of the liquid has been absorbed.
Using a spatula, collect all of the grains from the sides of the pot, and stir into the mixture so that the rice cooks evenly.
Continue adding 1 ladleful of the warm stock at a time, stirring constantly to ensure even cooking.
Taste the rice before each addition of broth to gauge how close it is to being cooked and to adjust the seasoning with salt.
While the rice is cooking, toast the saffron in a small pan over low heat.
Crumble the toasted saffron, and combine with a small amount of the broth.
When the rice is al dente, stir the saffron-infused broth into the risotto.
Season with salt, to taste.
Remove the pot from the heat, and add the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Stir until the ingredients are completely incorporated.
Serve the risotto into four warm bowls, and finish each dish with a spoonful of “tradizionale” balsamic vinegar from Modena.