Milan’s saffron risotto
With its bright golden hue, deceptively minimal ingredients and creamy texture, Risotto alla milanese (risotto milanese style) is one of the most famous dishes in Lombardy’s culinary tradition. Traditionally made with saffron, grana padana cheese and bone marrow, today this golden delicacy is an iconic dish, but one with a debatable history based in legend.
History of a legendary risotto dish
While there are many stories and legends surrounding the origin of this historical dish, one of the most famous dates back to September 1574. As the story goes, the Flemish master artist Valerio di Fiandra and his assistants, who were working on the stained glass window of Milan’s Duomo Cathedral at the time, would mix saffron into their glaze to achieve a golden color. This habit led to a lot of teasing about how the artists loved the plant so much, next thing you knew they would be eating it. When time came for Master Valerio’s daughter to marry, steaming plates of saffron risotto appeared at the wedding banquet as a joke, but the humorous addition was appreciated for its beauty and aromatic taste.
By the 19th century the dish that according to legend started out as a joke was appearing in recipe books with the name Risotto alla milanese. In “Il nuovo cuoco milanese” (The New Milanese Cook) Felice Luraschi sets down the recipe for yellow Milanese rice as including butter, saffron, ox marrow and grana padana cheese. In his legendary masterpiece of Italian cuisine, “La scienza di cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene” (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well), Pellegrino Artusi offers two versions of Risotto alla milanese, one with ox marrow and white wine, the other without.
A contemporary classic of Milanese cuisine
Today, many people in Milan and beyond happily make Risotto alla milanese in their kitchens. When my mom visits me in Milan, she doesn’t even have to tell me what she wants to eat, I know it will be a heaping plate of golden risotto. While most people (and restaurants) no longer use ox marrow in their Risotto alla milanese, it’s the traditional way to prepare the dish.
Since this column in Ganzo is about vintage Italian icons, we want to share a recipe that will let you prepare this incredible dish the way it’s meant to be served.
Want to cook it? It’s pretty simple, just follow our instructions!
Risotto allo zafferano
- 7 cups beef or chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron
- 1 cup onion, minced
- 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 ounces beef marrow, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padana cheese
- salt and pepper as needed
- Bring stock to a boil and set aside.
- Place saffron in a small cup or pan. Pour 1/2 cup of the boiling stock over the saffron and set aside.
- Heat butter in a large skillet or saucepan.
- Add the onion and pieces of bone marrow.
- Cook the onion and pieces of bone marrow in the butter until the onion is soft and translucent.
- Add in the rice. Let the butter coat the grains as they toast.
- Stir in the wine and cook, uncovered, until it has evaporated.
- Add 1/2 cup of stock and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Repeat, adding 1/2 cup of stock at a time.
- About 10 minutes after the wine has evaporated add the saffron-flavored broth to the rice and cook until absorbed.
- Continue adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, until rice is tender but firm and has a slightly creamy consistency (approximately 20 minutes after the wine has evaporated).
- Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter and the cheese.