Risotto alla Milanese

I have never been a huge risotto fan, but since I live in Milan I figured I might as well work on improving my knowledge and duomomastering my technique of Milanese cuisine.  Since risotto dishes are a main staple of northern Italy I thought, what better place to start than with Risotto alla Milanese.  Now…just a bit of information for you history lovers.  Rice was brought to mainland Italy in the 14th century, probably from Spain, and the Po Valley was the perfect area for rice stained glasscultivation thanks to its flat plains and large quantity of water.  The legend of risotto alla Milanese dates back to 1574 when they were building the Duomo cathedral of Milan.  Master glass maker, Valerio from Belgium, was brought in to complete the stained glass windows.  One of his apprentices’ was said to have added saffron to the pigments to get brighter colors.  This poor apprentice was teased for many years until he decided to get his revenge.  On the day of Valerio’s daughter’s wedding, the apprentice bribed the chef to add saffron to the rice.  Everyone was shocked to see a giant dish of yellow risotto, but after one bite the dish was devoured.  Word spread fast and the dish instantly gained popularity throughout Milan.  And there you have it, the birth of Risotto alla Milanese.  Now, the original recipe calls for ox marrow, but not having yet summoned the courage to eat bone marrow I left this out of the recipe.  Also, I normally don’t use measurements when I cook so I will do my best to be as accurate as possible.  So here you go:

Servings: 4

Total cooking time: 45 minutes


2 C. Arborio rice (or another starchy rice used for making risotto: Carnaroli, Vialone)

5 Tbs. buttersaffron

1 large white onion (chopped)

1 Tbs. saffron

1 C. dry white wine

1 Liter chicken broth

1 large white onion

¾ C. grated Parmigianino Reggiano cheese (or Grana Padano)

Salt to taste


  1. Warm up the broth to a simmer in one pot
  2. In another large pan (or pot) melt 3 Tbs. butter with onions and “soffriggere” (fry over low heat) for about 5 minutes
  3. Add rice and brown for another 3-5 minutes stirring with a wooden spoon
  4. Add wine….keep stirring
  5. When the wine is almost absorbed add saffron and 1 ladle of broth…keep stirring
  6. Repeat this step of adding more broth (1-2 ladles at a time) and stirring until the rice is “al dente” (not crunching but not mushy)
  7. When the rice is ready, turn off the burner and stir in the remaining butter and grated cheese
  8. Serve immediately adding salt and more grated cheese to taste

Now my risotto turned out orange.  I’m not sure if this was due to using too much saffron or if it’s because I was using saffron that I bought in a Moroccan souk (maybe it was cut with something?).  Regardless, my risotto had the same effect as it did 400 years ago at Valerio’s daughter’s wedding….we devoured it!rice field

(Rice fields near Milan)

What’s your favorite rice dish?


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