This recipe is a great base for many risotto dishes (see Variations, below). It is a basic risotto with one important feature that makes it Milanese: The stock is steeped like tea with a fat pinch of saffron, which gives this risotto its rich golden-orange color and extra layer of elegant flavor.

Courtesy of Rachael Ray’s new cookbook, Everyone Is Italian on Sunday (Photo by Frances Janisch.)

Ingredients
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • A fat pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ pound pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups Arborio or carnaroli rice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • A fat handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley tops, finely chopped
Preparation

In a saucepan, combine the stock and saffron, bring to a simmer, and keep warm over low heat.

In a risotto pot or other round-bottomed pan, heat the oil (2 turns of the pan) over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and stir for 1 to 2 minutes more. Add the rice, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the wine and cook to evaporate. Begin adding the hot chicken stock, a few ladles at a time, stirring constantly and cooking until the liquid has been absorbed before adding more. Continue adding stock this way until the rice is al dente, about 18 minutes total.

Stir in the butter and Parm, and garnish with parsley.

VARIATIONS

Risotto Milanese with Asparagus
Thinly slice 12 to 15 asparagus spears on an angle. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon EVOO over medium-high heat, add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender-crisp. Make the risotto and stir half of the asparagus into the risotto just before serving. Garnish with the remaining asparagus and some chopped fresh tarragon.

Risotto Milanese with Shrimp
In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon EVOO over medium-high heat. Add 12 to 18 large peeled and deveined shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the shrimp are opaque. Add ½ cup dry vermouth to the pan to deglaze. Douse the shrimp with the juice of ½ lemon. Serve the risotto with the shrimp on top.

Risotto Milanese with Crab
When you cook the onion and garlic for the risotto, add 2 ribs finely chopped celery from the heart, 1 bay leaf, and 1 small fresh or dried split chile. Use dry vermouth rather than dry white wine. At the very end, remove the risotto from the heat, discard the bay leaf and chile, and stir in 8 ounces crabmeat (from a plastic tub, not a can), picked over for shell and cartilage. Garnish with minced fresh chives.

Risotto Milanese with Scapes
Omit the garlic from the recipe. When the risotto is about 5 minutes from being done, stir in 5 or 6 finely chopped garlic scapes.

Risotto Milanese with Ramps
Omit the onion from the recipe and replace with the chopped whites of 2 bunches ramps. Cut the ramp greens into 1-inch-wide slices and stir them in just before serving, along with the juice of ½ lemon.

Risotto Milanese with Roasted Butternut Squash
Halve and seed 1 small butternut squash, drizzle with a little EVOO, and season with salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg. Place on a baking sheet, cut side down, and roast in a preheated 400°F oven until very tender, about 35 minutes. Puree the squash flesh with a bit of water or stock. Cook the risotto to al dente. Just before adding the butter and cheese, stir in the butternut puree. Garnish with fried sage leaves. This butternut risotto is great for arancini.