Mastering the Art of Risotto
By Marc Vetri
This dish is forever linked to the centuries-old Duomo cathedral in Milan. Apparently, in 1574, a master glassmaker who was in charge of making stained glass for the cathedral enlisted an able disciple who was given the nickname Zafferano because he used saffron to color the glass. The yellow of the saffron never failed to make a beautiful golden color, achieving stunning effects in the windows. The master glazier said to his disciple, “I see it now. You’ll end up putting saffron in your risotto, too!” The daughter of the glassmaker was engaged to marry a wealthy merchant. At some point during the wedding, the party moved toward the table holding four steaming pots of risotto, traditional at Italian weddings. Everyone was amazed to see that the risotto was golden yellow, as if it were made of gold. It was the wedding gift of all wedding gifts from the disciple. The surprise was greeted with warm enthusiasm. News of the extraordinary dish traveled fast: the next day, all of Milan was eating golden risotto.
Recipe from MASTERING PASTA by Marc Vetri. Order your copy here.
Risotto Alla Milanese
- 6 cups (1.4 L) beef stock or chicken stock, heated to a boil
- 1 tablespoon (2 g) saffron threads
- 3 tablespoons (42 g) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (84 g) finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 3/4 cups (340 g) Carnaroli rice
- 3/4 cup (75 g) grated Parmesan cheese, plus some for garnish
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces (57 g) bone marrow (about 2 tablespoons), finely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine 1 cup (237 ml) of the boiling stock and the saffron threads in a heatproof cup and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons (28 g) of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat it until it is soft but not browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the rice and sauté the rice until it is translucent around the edges and starts to brown a little, 2 to 3 minutes. This is an important step to develop the right flavor and texture in the rice; make sure the rice absorbs some of the oil.
Gradually add 5 1/2 cups (1.3 L) of the boiling stock about 1/2 cup (118 ml) at a time, stirring almost constantly over medium-high heat until the rice absorbs the stock after each addition. Add the stock with the saffron as the last addition. (It’s best to add the saffron near the end of the cooking so that it retains maximum flavor and aroma.) When the rice is done, it should be tender but still a little chewy when bitten and should have released most of its starch, creating a creamy sauce in the pan. This process will take 25 to 30 minutes. Near the end of cooking, add a little more boiling stock if necessary and stir the rice like crazy to release as much starch as possible and create the sauce. Drag your spoon through the rice to the bottom of the pan; the sauce should slowly fill in the line you made. The risotto should be a beautiful golden yellow.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the Parmesan, oil, bone marrow, and the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 g) butter, stirring until the risotto is creamy. Taste it, adding salt and pepper until it tastes good to you.
Dish out the risotto onto warmed plates and garnish with a little Parmesan.
Reprinted with permission from Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri, copyright © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Photography credit: Ed Anderson © 2015