Being from a Calabrese Italian family, it may seem odd that risotto is a staple dish of my childhood. As Southern Italians, we tend to stick to delicious pastas of meat sauce, stuffed peppers, lasagna, sardella on crusty bread and baccala at Christmas time. The list goes on and on, but usually doesn’t include rice.
Despite my heritage, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t recognize the name, smell and flavor of Risotto alla Milanese. The dish, which translates to risotto from Milan, includes the aromatically subtle and delicate spice of saffron, onion, white wine, parmesan cheese and chicken broth, with a sprinkle of Italian parsley for garnish.
Ever since I was a kid I can remember my Italian American father making this dish. Ladling simmering chicken broth into the pot of arborio rice as it steamed, greedily absorbing the liquid in seconds.
I went in and out of phases of liking risotto, preferring the simple flavor of the saffron and rejecting the occasional mushroom risotto my father would make. In the past several years though, I have grown to truly love and appreciate the entire process of making risotto, even con funghi.
When I saw an email titled “What to Cook This Week” from New York Times Cooking arrive in my inbox I couldn’t help but be drawn to Sam Sifton’s Risotto with Sausage and Parsley recipe. I like risotto, I like Italian sausage and I had fresh parsley, why not give it a shot!
At Kroger I went up to the meat counter and asked for a pound of hot Italian sausage. The original recipe calls for a pound and a half but I decided to go lighter on the meat.
Pro tip: getting meat from the case instead of the shelf makes you feel all the more official and like a true Italian grandma.
I started making my dish around 6 p.m. Saturday, chopping my onions and parsley, browning my meat and shredding parmesan cheese, which resulted in me accidently grating part of my thumb . Then it came time for the broth.
One thing to know about risotto is no matter what amount of broth the recipe tells you to add, you most likely will end up adding more. Don’t trust the measurements, trust your mouth.
The broth stirring process took time. The recipe says 20-30 minutes, and I was definitely on the longer end of that spectrum, if not over. I continued to mix the broth and towards the end began to taste the rice, checking for texture.
I added a couple more generous pours of dry white wine in addition to the additional half cup called for, and at the end mixed in my parmesan. I ended up leaving out the lemon because I figured the white wine already gave it the acidity I was looking for.
Finally, it was time to sit down and dig in. I was pleased. I achieved the texture I have been coached to since childhood– al dente, in between underdone and mush, which is a common mistake in American risotto. Two of my roommates joined me, who seemed to like the dish as well, which is always a bonus!
I called my dad the day after my risotto adventure to ask how he began cooking risotto, having not grown up with it. He said he had come to love it while traveling in Italy, and learned to cook it himself because it was difficult to find risotto prepared the authentic Italian way in the United States.
“If you want a good risotto you have to make it yourself”, he said.
Reflecting on my first risotto away from home, I feel satisfied. Nothing will ever live up to the Risotto alla Milanese my dad makes, but it doesn’t hurt to explore. Next time I will probably cut down the sausage even more and attempt to safely handle the cheese grater. In all, the process took about 2 hours (twice the time it supposedly takes Sifton).
I love risotto... even if it does come from the Northern Italians. Salute!