(recipe by Marco Cagetti)

Risotto is a common dish in Northern Italy, where it is more traditional than pasta (which is rather typical of the South). It consists of rice cooked in beef stock, with various flavorings. You can vary the quantity of ingredients as you like, no fixed proportions are necessary. The basic recipe is given first. Usually, however, one adds other ingredients to enhance the flavor. The most typical things are saffron and mushrooms.

The following recipe makes about 6 (abundant) portions.



In a large pan bring water to a boil. You will need a lot of water for that much rice, no less than half a gallon. Add the beef cubes and let simmer. If you know how to do it, you can prepare the beef stock yourself, but that of course would take a very long time. Regularly, I use cubes.

Meanwhile, cut the onion in very small pieces. In a very large pan, fry the onion in the butter, until the onion is golden brown. Remember to stir constantly, otherwise the onion will burn. The process should take around 10-15 minutes, may be more, depending on the power of your fires and on the quantity of onions. When the onion is golden, add the rice all at once at stir it briskly so that it absorbs the butter. Immediately add the wine or liquor and stir until the wine is evaporated. Remeber to stir quickly during these last processes, otherwise the rice will stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

Start adding the beef broth, which is simmering in the other pan. You should not add it all at once, but a little at a time. The rice should be covered by the broth, but not much more. Doing so, by the way, will allow you to use the right quantity of water, wich may vary from rice to rice etc. The broth you are adding must be boiling too, otherwise you would cool the rice. From now on just keep stirring often (to avoid sticking) and let the rice absorb the broth, adding it from time to time. If you finish the broth, and you need more, add hot water, and may be a cube directly in the rice. Also remember to add salt and pepper (I suggest you do not exceed, they can be added to every plate according to taste. I don't like very salty things, but some people do, so make sure you tell your guests to add salt and pepper as needed, otherwise they may feel that the thing lacks flavor.)

The rice should be ready in 20 minutes from the moment you start pouring the broth. Just taste it from time to time. When ready, switch the gas off, and add a lot of grated parmesan cheese. Serve hot, putting on the table also the parmesan cheese and the salt, so that people can adjust to their taste.

It is better to serve the risotto in warm plates (you can simply put them in the oven), so the rice doesn't cool too much. However, when taken out of the fire, the rice will be extremely hot, and I have noticed the tendency of foreigners to burn their tongue as the quickly put the rice into their mouth. This is a must, you don't want to burn your guests' tongue: warn them to be careful. To cool down the rice a little bit, the guest can spread it all over the plate, wait for a few seconds, or pick up only a very tiny bit with the fork. This may not be the most polite thing to do, but it works.

This is the basic recipe. But you should always add one or more ingredients. The typical recipe in Milan adds saffron.
Here are some examples. Basically, most types of veggie or of sausage work. In my hometown, a traditional version called paniscia has beans and sausages.
Note: if you want the taste of the other ingredient to shine through, use less strong broth (ie, use less or even no cubes)

Risotto alla milanese
Additional ingredient:

Just follow the same steps as above and anytime after you have added the broth for the fist time (and before cooking is complete), add the saffron. This is the most typical form of risotto, and everyone should try it at least once, possibly with the addition of mushrooms (see below).

Risotto ai funghi
Additional ingredients Follow the same steps as above, adding the mushrooms after you have added the broth for the first time. I add the dry porcini mushrooms directly to the rice, after cutting them in very tiny pieces (they become much larger, and you don't want to have a whole porcino in your dish), but most people prefer to revive them first in hot water, and cut them after that. Since the water in which they were heated contains both impurities and flavor from the mushroom, they then pass the water through a mesh and use it in the risotto. Instead of dried porcini mushrooms, you can use any kind of fresh mushrooms (I tried champignons and shitake, and the result was good). In this case you have to wash the mushrooms carefully, slice them and add them in the first step, together with the onions, and let them fry and brown. Don't add fresh mushroom to the rice with the broth, otherwise they won't cook and the rice won't taste of anything.
Risotto agli asparagi
Additional ingredients Discard the bottom of the asparagus, if it's too hard. In a pan with abundant water and the lemon, boil the asparagus for a couple of minutes until tender (but not too much). Strain them and cut them in small pieces. Same step as above, just add the asparagus after adding water for the first time (or later if you like them less cooked).