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The risotto alla Milanese (ris giald in Milanese dialect) is, together with the cotoletta alla Milanese and the panettone, the most typical and well-known dish of Milan. It is a risotto whose main ingredients and those necessary to prepare a risotto in white, are saffron, from which it derives its characteristic yellow color, and ox marrow. It can also be served as a side dish of ossobuco, another typical Milanese dish.
The origins of risotto alla Milanese date back to the Middle Ages and are related to a similar recipe from Arab and Jewish cuisine. In the Middle Ages, in Italy, this dish was known as riso col zafran.
Risotto alla Milanese was invented in 1574 at the table of the Belgian glassmaker Valerio di Fiandra, living in Milan because he was working on Milan’s Duomo’s windows. For his daughter’s wedding, his colleagues’ glassmakers added saffron to a white risotto with butter: glassmakers, in fact, used this spice to obtain a particular yellow coloration of glass. The new dish was immediately successful, both for its taste and for its yellow tonality, which recalled gold, a synonym of richness. Saffron also has recognized pharmacological properties, and therefore yellow risotto soon spread in Milanese taverns and inns.
Risotto alla Milanese soon disappeared from the chronicles and reappeared in documents in 1809, when it was defined as “yellow rice in the pan.” Later on, in 1829, in another recipe book, the famous Milanese dish is defined as “risotto alla Milanese Giallo” (yellow risotto Milanese style), taking the name with which it is universally known still today.
Risotto alla Milanese in the Fascist Regime
Risotto alla Milanese was present in various versions in cookbooks, which, from the beginning of the 20th century, began to be written by women as well, even though they only contained a list of ingredients, without any other indications about the doses or the cooking method. In 1917 the National Association of Cooks published Cucina di Guerra (War Cookery), which gathered recipes particularly economical and practical by including the necessary quantities in every recipe.
One of the Regime cornerstones was returning to traditional values, which saw in culinary ability an indispensable dowry for young brides. For this reason were published the first editions of cookbooks such as Cucina Pratica (Practical Cooking) of 1936, written by anonymous Aunt Carolina.
The exportation of the recipe
In 1984 Gualtiero Marchesi wrote the modern interpretation, one of the most famous, “Oro e zafferano” (gold and saffron), which, besides specifying the quality of rice (Carnaroli), adds, at the last moment, four excellent gold leaflets.
At the beginning of the 1980s, in Italian restaurants in the United States of America, risotto became the most popular dish, so much so that in 1993 Florence Fabricant, an American food critic and writer, published an article on risotto in the American newspaper Nation’s Restaurant News, entitled Mystique of Risotto.
The Recipe Submitted to the City of Milan
By resolution of the Municipal Council of the Municipality of Milan, on December 14, 2007, the following recipe received Denominazione Comunale’s recognition (De.Co.) of Risotto alla Milanese. The acronym De.Co. in Italy indicates a dish’s belonging to a territory, and the Municipalities recognize it to the gastronomic products more connected to the territory and the local community.
Ingredients: for 6 people
30 g of minced beef or ox marrow 2-3 l of reduced boiling broth: it should not be "stock cube". Two tablespoons of light and dark beef roast fat (if missing, increase the marrow to 60 g) One small finely chopped onion A tuft of saffron pistils or a sachet of saffron Salt Plenty of grated parmesan cheese 50 g of butter
Place the marrow, butter, roast fat, and onion in a saucepan. Cook over low heat until the onion is golden brown. Add the rice and stir well to allow it to absorb the seasoning. At this point, turn up the heat and start pouring the boiling broth over the rice in ladles, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon. As the broth evaporates and is absorbed, continue to cook over high heat, adding more broth in ladles until the rice is cooked, making sure the rice remains al dente (cooking time from 14 to 18 minutes approximately, depending on the quality of rice used). When the rice is two-thirds cooked, add the saffron pistils previously dissolved in the broth: however, if powdered saffron is used, it must be added at the end of cooking to avoid lose its aroma. When cooked, add the butter and Parmesan cheese and allow it to thicken for a few minutes. Add salt to taste. The risotto should be quite liquid (“all’onda”), with the grains well divided but bound together by a creamy mixture. It is important never to add wine, which would kill the aroma of the saffron. Do not cook more than seven/eight portions at a time.
Regional Recipe from Lombardy