Risotto is one of the staples of northern Italian cooking, nowhere more so than in Lombardy. Here is the risotto that typifies the cooking of Milan, the capital of Lombardy region and the economic and financial capital of Italy. This simple risotto follows the classic method for making risotto, and has has two defining ingredients that give it its special flavor and character. As many of you will already know, it is flavored with saffron—which gives it a beautiful gold color—but perhaps fewer people know that in a true risotto alla milanese, the soffritto must include beef marrow. The marrow lends a beefy background flavor to the dish, as well as a subtle richness and unctuousness. Now for those of you who may be a bit squeamish about bone marrow, it can be left out of the dish, adding perhaps some additional butter during the mantecatura to make up for it. What you will have made is more properly called risotto allo zafferano rather than a true risotto alla milanese—but it will still be delicious!
- 400g (7 oz.) rice for risotto (arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli)
- 40-50g (1-1/2 or 2 oz.) bone marrow ( ask your butcher for the most suitable bones ), removed from the bone and finely chopped – or substitute with 25g butter
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 40-50g (3 Tbs.) butter (plus a bit more for the mantecatura)
- A good splash of dry white wine
- 1 liter (1 qt.) broth, or q.b.
- A pinch of saffron
- 50-60g (2 oz) grated parmesan cheese, plus some more to serve at table
- Make a soffritto by sautéing the onion and marrow in the butter.
- When the marrow has melted and the onion is well wilted, add the rice and let it 'toast' in the soffritto without browning.
- Add a splash of white wine and let it evaporate.
- Proceed with the risotto in the usual way—with one little catch: While the rice is simmering, take your saffron and simmer it very gently with a ladleful of broth so it releases its flavor and color into the broth.
- Then, either about halfway through the cooking process, or if you prefer a more assertive flavor, about 5 minutes before the rice is done, add the saffron and its broth into the risotto.
- Continue to cook as usual.
- Risotto alla milanese is usually served all'onda, which is to say, rather more loose than firm, so begin the final enrichment, called the mantecatura in Italian, while the rice is stlll fairly brothy.
- Add the cheese and, if you like, a dab of butter for extra richness (never cream!) to the rice, then stir to toss the rice around vigorously for about two minutes. (Skilled risotto chefs are a marvel to watch as they work the rice, they toss the rice into the air while they stir.)
- If you like your risotto a bit firmer, let it sit, covered, for a minute or two before serving.