In Italy, risotto is normally served as a first course, Risotto Milanese being one of the very few served as a main course along side Osso Buco (braised Veal Shank. The Risotto alla Milanese is usually made with beef bone marrow which gives it its characteristic taste and is coloured with saffron.
Paola, a friend of mine, grows and dries saffron in the San Gimignano region and her saffron threads are delicious but you can also get very tasty saffron threads from Spain.
Using saffron threads is very, very different from saffron powder as the latter is normally contains very little saffron powder mixed with turmeric which is a lot less expensive, so you get the colour but not the taste.
Legend says that in the 16th Century an artisan glass maker, working on the stain-glass for the Duomo in Milan, made very special colours by adding saffron powder to the finished glass paste. His master said, “One of these days you’ll also be adding saffron to risotto!”. Not long after this, the master’s daughter got married and, as a surprise, asked the cook to add saffron to the risotto made for the banquet.
This recipe is the traditional from Milan with bone marrow. —Maria Teresa Jorge
Carnaroli fine rice (not parboiled)
butter at room temperature
Parmesan cheese grated
medium shallots very finely chopped
saffron threads (keep a little for decoration)
Put the vegetable broth in a pan and keep it over low heat so it is always hot. Season it with 2 pinches of salt. You won’t use it all but better to be on the safe side and have more then less.
In a pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and the bone marrow, let everything melt (the bone marrow melts completely) and add the shallots. Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring so the shallots just become translucent and don’t brown.
Turn up the heat to medium, add the rice and fry it until it’s all well coated with butter and becomes translucent. Add the white wine and let the alcohol evaporate completely.
Add 2 ladles of broth or enough to just cover the rice, mix, lower the heat to medium-low and allow to cook until it’s almost dry. Add another ladle of broth and the saffron threads and stir. Allow to simmer gently until it’s almost dry again. Keep repeating the process, adding less and less stock every time you add it to the risotto. After 15 minutes try the risotto and season it with salt and white pepper.
At this point the risotto should be cooked al dente. Add the remaining butter and grated Parmesan, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, cover and let sit for 3 minutes.
Serve immediately either by itself with a few threads of saffron to decorate or with Osso Buco.