May 30, 2024

Creamy Risotto alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto)

It doesn’t get more classic than this.

If there was ever a risotto to make, it is this one. This creamy risotto alla Milanese is iconic and a true Italian gem. Its delicate flavor boasts earthy, yet rich and savory notes, with a texture as smooth as velvet. While I have a collection of risottos—some fun and whimsical, others traditional—this risotto recipe pays homage to what risotto alla Milanese is. While the ingredients in this classic risotto stay true, the process is broken down and made incredibly easy, because as I always say, risotto doesn’t and shouldn’t require an arm workout.

*This post is sponsored by Delallo, who is my go-to for Italian pantry staples like the ones in this recipe. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for your support!

a bowl of risotto alla milanese

WHAT IS RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE

Risotto alla Milanese, also known as saffron risotto, originates from the Lombardy region of Milan and might just be one of the most iconic risottos you can make. This risotto is undeniably a showstopper with its golden hue and luxurious flavor and texture. While its rich flavor elevates it enough to become a special occasion dinner, the recipe is easy enough to be an everyday meal. Its simplicity and elegance make it a favorite among both novice cooks and seasoned chefs, and it is a must-make, in my opinion.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED FOR RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE

  • Arborio Rice – Repeat after me: I will not under no circumstances use the long grain rice that is sitting in the back of my pantry. In case you didn’t know different types of rice have different starch content, and risotto needs a high starch content rice to give it its iconic creamy texture.

    Arborio rice is one of the most popular and easily accessible varieties used to make risotto. I have a few go-to brands for this ingredient, but by far the one I always pick up first is Delallo’s Arborio Rice. Its quality and consistency never disappoint, making it my top choice for creating perfect foolproof creamy risotto dishes.

    If you want to elevate this dish even further Delallo also sells a Carnaroli Rice, which is another fantastic short grain rice to make risotto with, so much so that it has been nicknamed “The King of Italian Rice.
  • Saffron – Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is what gives this risotto its beautiful yellow hue and delicate floral yet earthy flavor. If you don’t know, saffron is the stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower, and the spice is so expensive because each flower only has three stigmas, which must be manually picked. So, yes, saffron is expensive, but you only need a small amount for this recipe, so this dish in no way will hurt your wallet.

    Saffron can be bought in most major supermarkets. I’m telling you, you don’t need the most expensive saffron you can find. I personally get mine from Trader Joe’s for about $6, and it is more than enough for this recipe four times over.
  • White Wine – Pick a nice dry white wine that you would drink. I use Sauvignon Blanc in 99% of my recipes, but if that is not your preferred white, then Pinot Grigio is a great substitute. In a lot of my risotto recipes, I mention that wine is optional, but unfortunately, it’s mandatory here.

INGRIDENTS CONT…

  • Yellow Onion
  • Chicken Broth – Always use a nice, flavorful chicken broth when making risotto. Personally, I don’t love boxed chicken broth; I find that it lacks flavor. If you have a favorite, by all means, use it, but I recommend homemade broth or using Better than Bouillon to make your own with a slightly more intense flavor. Remember, there are only a handful of ingredients in this recipe, which means every one counts.
  • Bone Marrow – Absolutely optional, but let me sell you on it first. If you’ve had bone marrow before and liked it, then you know just how amazing this ingredient is. It’s fatty and buttery, with a savory, almost umami flavor.

    The flavor of the bone marrow doesn’t shine through the other dominant ingredients of this dish, such as the Parmesan cheese and saffron, but what it does bring is an unbelievable texture. Think silky, smooth, velvety texture. If you opt against using bone marrow (though I highly suggest you don’t), then you will finish the dish off with a few slabs of butter at the end to mimic this texture

    So where do you buy bone marrow? Luckily, it is widely available in most major supermarkets. Cut bone disks are often sold in the meat section. If you can’t find them, you can always ask the butcher in the back.
  • Parmesan Cheese – You can’t have risotto alla Milanese without Parmesan cheese. Please use freshly grated!
  • Olive Oil – Choose a good extra virgin olive oil to give this dish some additional flavor. My favorite and go-to is Delallo Castelvetrano Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Made from Castelvetrano olives, this EVOO is fruity, grassy, and pleasantly bitter with a bright, peppery finish. It is delicious enough to make it your everyday oil but also has a great bold rounded flavor that elevates any dish.

TOOLS NEEDED

Wide Pan- The rice needs ample surface area to cook evenly. A wide sauté pan or even a braiser works well for this dish. If you don’t have either, a large skillet will also do. There are a lot of risotto recipes out there that call for a saucepan, and that just leads to uneven cooking. Stick to a wide, shallow pan with a little depth.

2 bowls of risotto alla milanese

TIPS ON MAKING THE BEST RISOTTO

Before you dive into the very detailed instructions below on how to make this beloved dish, I thought I’d give you some tips on how to make creamy, fool-proof risotto every time. Let’s be real, risotto has a bad rep, partially because of a TV show, but also because there’s always someone with an opinion on how it needs to be made. Truth is, there are no set rules, and people who have mastered risotto will tell you it’s one of the easiest dishes you can make

Below are some tips and tricks on cooking risotto that will help you successfully make this or any other risotto at home.

USE THE RIGHT RICE

I delved into this above, but it bears repeating: use the right rice. Since this is a rice dish, using the wrong rice will completely ruin the recipe.

COOK IT PROPERLY

Risotto needs to be al dente, not mushy, or even worse, hard. It’s really easy to overcook or undercook risotto if you don’t know what to look for. When done, the rice will have a slight bite to it—think of the same bite that you get from perfectly cooked pasta. It should be loose, which means when you plate it, it should spread just a bit. By the time you get the rice to the table, it will absorb a little more of that liquid and be the perfect texture.

Risotto seizes fast; trust me, I know—I have spent countless hours across 14 recipes photographing it. Remember to serve immediately.

USE THE RIGHT PAN

As mentioned above, the best pan for this is a wide sauté pan or a braiser. Do not make risotto in a Dutch oven or saucepan; it won’t cook evenly.

USE YOUR INTUITION

Truth is, I cook with feeling, not tablespoons. All the recipes on this site, one way or another, started with a pinch here and a taste there. When the dish comes together, then they are further tested, and true measurements are made.

Follow the recipe below, but cook with feeling. Taste the food as it is cooking. Does it need more salt? (FYI, different brands of salt have different saltiness levels.) You used all the broth yet it is still a little hard? Add a touch more broth. Don’t go making full substitutions, but trust yourself in the kitchen.

HOW TO MAKE RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE

Roast the Bone Marrow – Skip this step if you are omitting the marrow. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the bone disks on a sheet tray and generously salt them. Roast for 8 minutes, enough time to loosen the marrow so you can scoop it out. Let the bones cool for 2-3 minutes before scooping out the marrow and finely chopping it. It will be fatty and a little messy, but trust me, you want to give it a fine chop.

Hot Tip! The marrow cooks just for a short time to be able to easily get it out of the bone. There is a chance that it may get a little, well, let’s call it “crusty” on top around the bone opening. Try to avoid this, but if not, it’s absolutely fine; you may just have a few marrow specks in your risotto.

Prep the Broth + Saffron –Before you even place the risotto pan on the stove, warm the broth in a saucepan over low heat. A warm broth helps maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cooking process, resulting in a better end product.

Take 1/4 cup of warm broth and pour it over the saffron threads in a small bowl. Give it a mix and allow it to steep.

Cut + Cook the Onion – This recipe calls for mincing the onion, and when I say mince the onion, I mean making micro cuts. You want the onion to be as close to the size of the rice as possible. Place the risotto pan on the stove over medium-low heat. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and allow it to heat up. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Then add in the bone marrow and cook for another 2 minutes.

cooking risotto alla milanese - toasting the arborio rice

Toast the risotto – Next, add the unwashed Arborio rice to the pan and toast it for 3-5 minutes until the grains start to become translucent. Do not, and I repeat, do not wash the rice beforehand. Unlike other varieties of rice where you want to wash the rice before cooking, rinsing the rice here will strip it of its starches, starch that is needed to make this dish creamy.

Deglaze with Wine – Add the wine to the pan and cook it off for 2-3 minutes. Typically, you would reduce wine for longer in a dish, but the rice will start to absorb the wine. When the wine has reduced and is no longer soupy, it is time to add the first round of broth.

Add the Broth – Add the warm broth to the risotto, but not all at once! For every cup of risotto, you need approximately 4-5 cups of broth. Have extra on hand to account for evaporation. My rule of thumb is to pour just enough broth to cover the risotto. When the broth starts to dip below the grains, it is time to add more.

This is also the place to season with salt. I leave this up to you. Depending on how salty your chicken broth is will determine how much salt you add. After the first broth addition, taste it (avoiding the rice) and adjust the seasoning. I usually start with a heavy pinch of salt in the beginning, then adjust right before it is done.

Mix, add, shake – Mix 2-3 times per broth addition. If you end up mixing more, no biggie! Also, give the pan a mix or a shake midway to ensure the rice isn’t sticking to the bottom. I typically mix once right after I add the broth and then 2-3 times a few minutes later.

Add the Saffron – After the second addition of broth, about halfway through, pour in the saffron-infused broth. Continue to add ladles of broth until either A. the risotto is al dente, or B. until all the broth is gone. Chances are you might have a little broth left over.

Finish – When the risotto has absorbed the majority of the broth and is al dente (if it isn’t al dente yet, continue adding broth), turn off the heat. The risotto should be loose but not completely soupy; it will come together on its own in the next few minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese and mix to incorporate. Serve immediately.

finished risotto alla milanese

STORING/REHEATING

Sorry to break this to you… risotto doesn’t reheat as well as you might hope. This, like all my other risotto recipes, is designed to feed 2-3 people with the ability to scale up. If you happen to have leftovers, they can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. When ready to reheat, the best method is to return it to the stove over low heat, with some broth to loosen it up and add moisture back in.

This risotto would be particularly delicious as arancini, also known as fried risotto balls. Recipe coming soon for that.

Can’t get enough risotto? Well you have come to the right place. Check out the collection below.

Mushroom Parm Risotto // Kale & Pancetta Risotto
Lemon Parm Risotto // Cacio e Pepe Risotto
Spicy Vodka Risotto // Brown Butter & Sage Risotto
Creamy Tomato Risotto // Smoked Gouda Risotto
Lobster Risotto // French Onion Risotto
Risotto Carbonara // Crab Risotto
Corn Risotto

May 30, 2024

Risotto alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto)

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This creamy Risotto alla Milanese is iconic and a true Italian gem. Its delicate flavor boasts earthy, yet rich and savory notes, with a texture as smooth as velvet.
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword Risotto, Saffron
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 3 people

Ingredients

  • 4-6 bone discs to yield approx. 2 tbsp of marrow
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion micro minced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 pinch of saffron 12-15 threads
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese loosely packed

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400℉. Place the bones on a sheet tray and generously salt them. Roast for 8 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow the bones to cool for 2 minutes before scooping out the marrow. Finely chop the bone marrow and set it aside.
  • Place the chicken broth on the stove over medium heat. Once hot, but not simmering, take 1/4 cup out and combine it with the saffron in a bowl. Allow the saffron to steep, and reduce the heat on the remaining broth to low.
  • Place the risotto pan on the stove over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and allow it to heat up. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Then add the chopped bone marrow and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Next, add the arborio rice to the pan and toast it for 3-5 minutes until the grains start to become translucent.
  • Deglaze the pan with wine and cook for 2-3 minutes until the rice has almost absorbed all of it.
  • Add the first round of broth. Depending on the pan, add enough broth to just cover the risotto (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups). Give it a quick stir and a shake to ensure all grains are covered, then cook until the rice absorbs most of the broth. Stir 2-3 times during each round of broth. Don’t worry if you stir more often. After the first round, taste the broth (avoiding the rice) to check the seasoning. If it needs salt, start with a heavy pinch (about 1/4 teaspoon) and adjust as needed.
  • After the second or third addition of broth, about halfway through, pour in the saffron-infused broth. Continue the process of adding broth until the rice is al dente.
  • Once all the broth has been added but not completely absorbed (after 15-18 minutes of cooking), give it a taste. The rice should be loose yet al dente. If the rice is too firm, add more broth, about 1/4 cup at a time. Once al dente, turn off the heat and add the Parmesan cheese. If you did not use bone marrow, add 3 tablespoons of butter. Serve immediately.

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