Risotto Milanese: Saffron Risotto

People loved the risotto at our restaurant L’Amante. No matter how we served it, it was always a big hit. It was always on the menu. In fact, at one point we had 2 on the menu. And it’s not an easy dish to pull off in a restaurant. Risotto takes a lot of work as you really need to pay attention to it. Fortunately I learned from a couple of masters. Daniele Baliani¬† was the chef at Pignoli in Boston, the first restaurant I worked in out of culinary school a long time ago. And Francesco Berardinelli, his friend and chef/owner at Osteria di Rendola in Tuscany, are two of my mentors and they showed me the way with risotto. They also taught me the trick to serving perfect risotto in a restaurant which I will keep to myself for now.

As I said, Risotto is not an easy dish as it needs attention. I think this is why so many people don’t cook it at home. If it’s just a little under or overcooked it’s pedestrian. Getting it right takes practice and patience.¬† When it’s cooked properly it is ethereal. Hopefully this recipe will help. Don’t get too married to the quantities of liquid. The dish is about feel. You have to taste as you’re making it. The finished rice should be creamy and al dente.

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 small, Spanish onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon saffron threads

4 cups water*, simmering

2 cups canaroli* rice (can substitute arborio)

1/2 cup dry, white wine

3/4 stick of unsalted butter

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

*A quick word about the liquid and rice. I like to use water even though most recipes call for some sort of stock. My reasoning is that as you cook the rice the liquid will get concentrated. That’s fine if you are using a good stock. But by using water it lets the ingredients shine as opposed to the stock. For rice I like carnaroli. It’s harder to find than arborio but I think it stands up better and is much more forgiving. It takes just a bit longer to cook as well.

In a heavy 14-inch skillet or sauce pan heat the oil and 1 teaspoon of butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the saffron and season with salt. Stir to coat. Turn the heat to med-high and add the wine. Stir until almost all the wine is absorbed. Add a 6-ounce ladle of water and stir until absorbed.

Keep adding the water, a ladle at a time, waiting until it is absorbed each time and continue stirring. After about 15-20 minutes the rice should start to look creamy (this is the starch being released by the constant stirring). Taste the rice to see if it is slightly al dente and creamy at the same time. If it is, remove from heat and add the remaining butter and the cheese. Stir to incorporate. Portion the rice on plates and serve warm.

Serves 4 portions.