As you may remember, our last day in Milan left Mike and I tired, chilled to the bone, and incredibly hungry. Walking around the city under a grey, rainy sky, we searched for something - anything resembling nourishment of some sort. By the late afternoon, defeated, we set back to our hotel in attempts to silence our growling stomachs with multiple cups of tea. Mike quietly flipped through our guidebook as I watched the local news, pretending to understand the reporter’s rapid-fire Italian. “I think I found a place that might be open for dinner,” Mike said. We exchanged glances - doubtful glances, since almost every restaurant on our list had been shuttered, closed for business, or simply not at the listed address.
Regardless, we set out again in the rain, as dusk encompassed the city. Down the twisting streets, we finally spotted the glow of a neon sign through the dark, the only promise of life on an otherwise abandoned street. “This is it!” Mike said and we both held our breath in silent prayer as I attempted to open the door.
The door opened into the scene of an old-Italian restaurant, complete with red-checkered table cloths and Italian waiters dressed in suits from a bygone era. We were only the second table in the restaurant, the other group also tourists, translating the Italian menu into Chinese. But our waiter was incredibly sweet, bringing us bread almost before Mike had finished explaining we had not eaten all day. He delivered a bottle of his favorite red wine, saving us the inevitable moment of playing eenie-meenie-miney-mo on the wine list. We asked for his favorite dishes, to which he replied, “Any! My mother is in the kitchen, she’ll take care of you.” And lo and behold, as soon as our orders were placed, our waiter disappeared into the kitchen and as the door swung shut he exclaimed “Mamma! Tortellini, risotto, lamb!”
This hole-in-the-wall restaurant, denoted only by a fading neon sign, was hands-down the best food we ate in Milan; the Milanese risotto was exactly the cure we needed to remove the chill in our bones. And by the time we finished our meal and wine, the restaurant was packed with the local regulars who traded Sunday supper at home for our waiter’s mother’s cooking.
Yields 6 servings
I avoided making risotto for a long time - as someone who continually tries to do too many things at once, standing still for so long seemed nearly impossible. My first attempt at the dish - delicious, albeit a wee too runny - quickly taught me two important lessons. First, it is of the utmost importance to use the right pan, a deep-sided, wide cavity pan will ensure the liquid is absorbed at the correct rate. My favorite pan for making risotto is my All-Clad 4-quart Saute Pan. Second, you really do have to stir constantly! In the years since my first attempt - whether I am becoming more patient or I am bribed by the delicious result - I now find I sometimes want nothing more than stand in my kitchen and stir away the stresses of life and the noise of the city.
5 ½ cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups aborio rice
Pinch (about 0.25 grams) of saffron threads
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cover to keep warm.
In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook until toasted, about 1 minute, stirring to thoroughly coat each grain with olive oil. Crumble the saffron threads into the wine and add it to the rice. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then cook, stirring continually, until the wine is completely absorbed. Add one ladle-full (about ½ cup) of the warm chicken stock and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed.
Continue adding the stock ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 25 minutes total. Season the risotto with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese and butter and serve immediately.Pin It