These recipes are part of a partnership between Christopher Kimball and the cooks at Milk Street and the Globe Magazine’s Cooking column.
During a recent trip to Italy, we learned that the way we make risotto — a low simmer, slowly adding liquid, constant stirring — isn’t how it’s done in Milan, a city famous for the dish. There, risotto comes together with blistering speed. The key is cooking at a vigorous pace over high heat, an approach that gets the dish on the table in less than half an hour. A simple homemade vegetable broth produces clean flavors in Saffron Risotto, a Milanese classic. A splash of balsamic vinegar brightens an otherwise earthy, herbaceous version scented with mushroom and sage. And, using a more conventional technique, the fruity aromas of sparkling prosecco complement the sweetness of shallots while adding acidity to balance the starch.
Saffron Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese)
Makes 4 servings
Saffron-rich Risotto alla Milanese is a specialty of Milan. Medium-grain Italian rice is essential for achieving a rich, creamy consistency, as it has the ideal starch content. Arborio rice is the most common choice for risotto in the United States, but cooks in Milan — and at Milk Street — prefer carnaroli; the grains better retain their structure and resist overcooking. With careful cooking, however, arborio will yield delicious results.
A quick five-ingredient vegetable broth (see “Easy Vegetable Broth” recipe below) is the best cooking liquid for this risotto; its fresh, clean flavor won’t compete with the other ingredients. If the taste and aroma of saffron don’t appeal to you, try our variation; the techniques we learned in Milan also work well for other flavors.
Don’t cook the rice to the ideal al dente texture before removing the pan from the burner because the grains will continue to cook with residual heat as you stir in the cheese and butter. Serve in shallow, warmed bowls to prevent the rice from cooling too quickly.
3½ cups vegetable broth (see recipe below)
1 teaspoon saffron threads
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, divided
1 cup carnaroli or arborio rice
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (½ cup)
4 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
In a small saucepan over medium, bring the broth, covered, to a simmer. Reduce it to low to keep it warmed. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine ½ cup of the hot broth and the saffron. Set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium-high, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until translucent at the edges, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2½ cups of the remaining hot broth and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and cook, stirring frequently and briskly, until the grains are almost tender but still firm at the core (it will be quite soupy), about 8 to 10 minutes; adjust the heat as needed to maintain a vigorous simmer.
Add the saffron broth and cook, stirring frequently and briskly, until the rice is just shy of al dente but still soupy, 3 to 5 minutes. If the rice is thick and dry but still too firm, add the remaining hot broth in ¼-cup increments and continue to cook, stirring, until just shy of al dente.
Off heat, stir in the Parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, 1 piece at a time. Taste and season with salt, then stir in the vinegar. Serve immediately.
Variation: Mushroom-Sage Risotto
Prepare vegetable broth for the risotto (see “Easy Vegetable Broth” recipe below), substituting ¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms for the carrots. Follow the Saffron Risotto recipe, substituting 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage for the saffron. Add 4 ounces cremini mushrooms, finely chopped, to the pan with the rice. Stir in 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives after the vinegar.
Makes 4 servings
We take our cue from Northern Italy and use prosecco, the local sparkling wine, instead of still white wine in this risotto. Adding the prosecco in three stages highlights its flavor and gives the risotto the best texture. The first addition adds acid, which helps soften the shallot and rice. The second helps loosen the consistency of the starch, essential for a creamy risotto. A final splash at the table revives the fruity aromas of the wine lost during cooking. Nutty fontina cheese is the perfect foil for the prosecco.
You may not need all of the broth to cook the rice; likewise, if you use up the broth before the rice is cooked, add water until the risotto is done.
Don’t use leftover prosecco for this recipe. A fresh, well-carbonated prosecco is key, and an affordable but high-quality wine makes a difference in flavor. Serve the rest of the bottle with dinner before it goes flat.
1 quart (4 cups) low-sodium chicken broth
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
2 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves
3 tablespoons salted butter, divided
1 large shallot, minced (about 1/3 cup)
1½ cups arborio rice
1 cup prosecco, plus more to serve
2 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (½ cup)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup), plus more to serve
In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the broth, 1 cup water, leeks, thyme sprigs, and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and keep at a bare simmer.
In a Dutch oven over medium, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the edges turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add ½ cup of the prosecco and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add about 1 cup of the simmering broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost completely absorbed, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer.
Continue adding the broth 1 cup at a time, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed, until the rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes total. Discard the thyme sprigs.
Increase to medium-high, add the remaining ½ cup of prosecco and remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Stir vigorously until the butter is melted. Off heat, stir in both cheeses, 1 teaspoon salt, and the minced thyme. Divide among four shallow bowls and make a well in the center of each. At the table, pour about 1 tablespoon of prosecco into each well. Stir, then season with salt and grated Parmesan.
Easy Vegetable Broth
Makes about 1 quart
This simple vegetable broth can be made in about 30 minutes. Use immediately after straining or cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate for up to five days.
Don’t simmer the broth uncovered. Partially covering the pan prevents excessive evaporation, but allows for some concentration of flavors.
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, smashed and peeled
In a large saucepan over high, combine all of the ingredients with 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Partially cover, then reduce to medium and cook for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a lively simmer.
Pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl; discard the solids.