Spice of Life: Milan's fashionable comfort bowl with Saffron, the world's most expensive spice.
These days, I cannot trapeze the planet as I use to, but I can bring you the flavors and cultures into the comforts of your home without traveling to far off places.
The fashion and fiancé capital of Italy, Milan, is a vibrant city where traffic flow in an orderly manner and trams rumble along carefully paved streets.
The Gothic Duomo di Milano cathedral and the Santa Maria Delle Grazie convent, housing Leonardo da Vinci's mural "The Last Supper," testify to centuries of art and culture. Innovation abounds and is part of the lifestyle, but thankfully culinary classic such as Risotto never changes radically. A rich and refined dish, risotto alla Milanese, uses bounty from Lombardy's fertile plains and hills.
This beloved dish also entails a romantic history; legend has it that the daughter of Valerio di Fiandra, a craftsman making the stained-glass windows of a duomo, was getting married. One of the apprentices, who used Saffron to color the glass, came up with the idea of taking the white Risotto that was to be served at the wedding banquet and turning it gold like his windows by adding the spice. The taste and golden color of the new dish from the Saffron was a hit with the guests and was widely adopted.
If you happen to be in Milan, my favorite restaurant for Risotto alla Milanese is at this cozy little joint, Risoelatte, at Via Manfredo Camperio, 6. The "1960's American Diner" décor is omnipresent.
Below is my recipe for this creamy Saffron Risotto, one of the most traditional beloved dishes in Milan.
What is Saffron?
Saffron is the dried filament of a crocus type and grown in limited quantities in Abruzzo in Southern Italy. As well as in Spain and Kashmir, but it originated in Persia, as did its name.
The pretty lilac flower is painstakingly harvested to produce the most expensive spice in the world, lending Milan's version of this most Italian of dishes the warm yellow of a gentle Italian sun.
The cooking process for risotto alla Milanese is drawn out, much like a slow sofrito, where thinly sliced onion is gently sweated in gleaming virgin olive oil. The rice is added and stirred, and then the heat is turned up, and a rich meaty broth is added, in small ladlefuls--with a pinch of the world's most expensive spice, Saffron, until the rice is just tender. Finally, grated Parmigianino cheese is beaten in, giving the rice a creamy texture and satin finish; this is also known as Risotto Giallo (yellow) for its saffron-bestowed golden sheen.