Recently, and likely often, I have risotto on the brain. When I began my article on the subject last week I actually intended to share some favorite tips with you and I digressed into telling a passionate college story.
Now I would like to share with you some things I do to make risotti my friends and family enjoy. I have two classes of risotto that I make: A weeknight version with commercially produced stock and a “Special Occasion Risotto” with homemade stocks and usually something like chanterelles or truffles in the mix.
Today I am explaining the basic Risotto Milanese (giallo) taught to me by my dear friend Benjamin and augmented by yours truly over the years.
Great Risotto begins and ends with the Rice:
My dear friend and Chef, Loren Root tuned me onto Aquerello a few years ago and I have never looked back when choosing my rice. Aquerello is a Carnaroli rice grown in the Piedmont region of Italy and just 45km outside of Milan. Carnaroli is considered by many in this part of Italy to be the king of all rice and many consider Aquerello the king of Carnaroli. In my experience it simply holds form and bite while still creating the magic starchy cream that makes Risotto so appealing. I have taken the liberty to borrow a bit from the Aquerello Website below. If you would prefer to not geek out just skip the quote below to go on to my cooking tips.
The Colombara farm was built in the 16th Century, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy near the town of Vercelli, the European capital of rice.
The cultivating process has always been extremely respectful towards the environment. Mostly natural products are used and high levels of water are kept in the fields under cultivation. Using this system, the Colombara farm has encouraged the return of the fauna of the rice fields: frogs, dragonflies, birds called cavalieri d’italia, and herons.
One of the key points to perfection is the aging process. To age properly, the freshly harvested crop must be stored, as long as possible, in unique steel silos at a constant controlled temperature, because during this period the starch, combined with the oxygen, optimizes its culinary characteristics.
The traditional stone husking is carried out using the Helix, invented in 1875 and nowadays exclusive to the Rondolinos . Unlike large-scale industrial whitening processes where grains are energetically whitened in about six seconds through a 6 mm space, in the Helix grains rub gently one against the other into a 20 cm space for 10 minutes. This ensures the lightest shelling to prevent fractures and broken grains (essential for uniformity in cooking).
The re-enrichment of the refined rice with its germ restores the most valuable nutrients of brown rice, inevitably lost in the refining process. In Acquerello using an exclusive patented process the recovered germ, very tender and soft, is slowly mixed with white rice so that it melts and a part penetrates inside the grain and the remainder adheres to its exterior.
After choosing the rice it is important to note that in my daily experience with risotto in Italy with my friends that bouillon cubes and powdered saffron (little saffron, lots of turmeric) were used in the production of tasty rice (even though there is MSG in the cubes). Now that I no longer live on a Ramen budget (although not far from it) I wanted to upgrade my ingredients in hopes of upgrading my risotto. I typically use a commercial stock reduction or Pacific Brand Organic Chicken Broth when I do not make stock at home (I make stock for dinner parties, special events, or anytime I roast a bird)
After giving up the cubes I decided to abandon the powder and invest in some serious Saffron. I have two sources I love for spices in the USA: Penzeys Spices pictured above, and The Chicago Spice House (apparently the companies are from 1 family that split from one another). Lately, I have taken to doing single origin saffron like the one from Kashmir above and blending in a little of the superior from Spain. I have found I enjoy the cut of the Spain and the roundness of the Kashmir; however, this is not necessary to make a great risotto giallo. Choose one high quality saffron, in threads, and packed recently from a great merchant and let’s be on our way.
Risotto Milanese (In the Style of Bliss)
serves 4-6 as a first course
1 Cup Riso Carnaroli Aquerello (roughly 250g)
1.5 quarts simmering chicken stock (1.25 liters)
.5 qts simmering veal/beef stock (.4 liters)
YOU MAY COMBINE THE STOCKS IN ONE POT
1/2 Organic Yellow Onion (has to be fresh) diced into smaller than standard dice 1/16 inch preferably
1/2 stick High Milk Fat Butter (4 oz)
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (two glugs out of the bottle)
3/4 cup Dry White Wine (Frascati, Gruner Veltliner, or unoaked Sauv Blanc) or I like to use White Vermouth as I usually do not want to cheat myself a glass of good vino and I like the texture and flavor from Vermouth
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (likely just a couple of ounces) Cheese (please grate yourself over wax paper with a Micro-Plane grater (you can use others, but why would you?
12-15 strands of high quality saffron (a medium-sized pinch crushed in a mortar and pestle).
1/8 cup Dry Marsala Wine (actually about a shot)
24-30 very thin slices of high quality Milanese style salami (I like Salumeria Biellese -Cacciatorini )
Ground Black Pepper (to taste and at serving)
1. Heat The Chicken and Veal Stocks together in a Saucepan (bring to boil and reduce to nice simmer)
2. Heat the risotto pan or chef’s pan on the large burner at slightly past medium (heat for 3 -5 minutes)
3. Add the olive oil to the pan and 1/2 the butter – stir vigorously if the pan is a bit too hot to avoid any browning of the butter
4. Add the onions to the butter and oil and stir with a wood spoon till well coated. Add the salt to the onions and allow them to sweat for about 3 minutes.
5. Add 1/4 cup of the white wine or the vermouth to the onions and cook them down until all liquid is gone and only oil, butter, and onions remain (this is a key step in my risotto as I like the braised and tender onions with this additional cook time versus just cooking them with the rice)
6. Add the Rice (Carnaroli please) to the onions and stir constantly for about 2 minutes allowing the rice to be coated with the butter and oil mixture.
7. Reduce the heat to precisely medium under the toasting rice and allow the rice to season with the onions and butter for about 3 more minutes stirring as needed being careful not to caramelize any of the onion.
8. Add the remaining white wine or vermouth to the rice (it will vigorously boil and steam) while stirring constantly until the liquid is near evaporation.
9. Now begin to ladle the stock over the rice about 1/2 cup. With each addition of stock the rice will absorb the liquid and the starch will begin to break down in the rice (slowly) creating a creamy sauce along with the rice. After the first addition of stock I like to stir constantly for about 30 seconds making sure to coat the rice completely and incorporate any grains or onion that were left on the sides of the pan.
10.*** Here is where I go off the grid from Italy*** I now add another 2 ladles (about 1 cup) of stock and stir it in. Then I simply give the pan infrequent shakes to collide the grains of rice and incorporate the stock. Gone are the days of stirring the rice consistently for 18-22 minutes.
Heresy! I am hearing it from all over the boot! I know you all think I am crazy, but I began playing with this method when I saw Alton Brown do it a few years ago. Prior to trying this new method I had made over 150 risotti with the stir constantly method and I can say with 100% surety that my risotto, my moods, and my life have all improved since I adopted the new method.
11. Now, continue to add the stock, stir it in, give the pan a few shakes until most of the stock is gone and the rice is just slightly friable. (about 18 minutes)
12. At this point place a final 1/2 cup of stock, the Marsala wine and the saffron into small bowl and stir together until the saffron is dissolved.
13. Add the contents of the bowl (wine, stock, and saffron to the risotto and stir constantly for about 1 minute until the color of the dish is a vibrant yellow/orange and the rice is almost perfectly al dente (look that one up if you have to
14. Remove the rice from the burner, add the remaining butter and the grated Parmigiano to the pan (do not stir) and place a lid on the pan for 90-120 seconds.
15. Heat 4 bowls for this same 90-120 seconds in the Microwave
16 Add 4-6 slices of Salami around the base of the bowls to form a small meat-bowl within the bowl
17. Stir the risotto, butter, and cheese together until all the cheese is melted and the sauce is creamy and viscous (but not muddy) Taste for salt and add a bit of crunchy Maldon Salt if it needs it (it should not)
18. Ladle the finished risotto into the bowls over the sliced salami and finish with a twist of ground black pepper.
Serve with something red of Northern Italia origin and higher acidity. I like Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto di Dogliani, or something from Lombardia
Please feel free to leave comments and questions as I would be happy to walk you through this