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Risotto alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto) and Asparagus “Salad”

June 29, 2011

It’s been a while.  A long while.  I’ve been fluctuating between extreme energy and inspiration (in which case the sun is shining) and extreme apathy and general disdain for most things (in which case it’s cloudy AGAIN and not at all late June-ish and possibly raining). In any case, I haven’t felt particularly inspired in the kitchen or at the keyboard…or even with a fancy pen in my hand.

But this evening I’m on a role.  Jacob went down like a dream and I’ve been working on an article for a local food magazine that I think is nearly there and I even got up the courage to add a comment of my own to the dauntingly long list of responses to the most recent post on Orangette and I just ate two oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and drank a glass of milk.  I know, being on a role should entail eating at least four cookies, but…

I wanted to get to a little post about risotto and asparagus and the beautiful new book, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux.  It’s a cookbook, yes.  It’s also a travel journal of sorts.  I cried when I first started reading it.  Fact.  Not a figure of speech, but a fact: I got all choked up thinking about grandmothers–Italian and otherwise–and the way they are indeed “the guardians of our collective culture.”  Which led me to thinking about my Nana, who died a little over a year ago, and the cooking my mom and sister and I have done in her kitchen: Namely, perogies for Christmas Eve dinner.  But there were other things, too.  Like a simple pastrami sandwich on light rye for lunch.  And her bacon-studded sauerkraut dish she always said made converts of people who allegedly didn’t like sauerkraut.  I am so very glad I have a few of her recipes written in her own hand.

Jessica Theroux’s book chronicles a year of cooking with Italian grandmothers, starting in Milan with Mamma Maria, her childhood au pair‘s mother.  I’ve been wanting to make the Italian risotto dish for a while–Risotto alla Milanese–so when I came across it in Theroux’s book, I knew it was time.  I had bought some fresh asparagus that day as well, and wanted to eat it immediately.  I turned to Marcella Hazan for this very simple “salad” recipe.  What a comfort this bright meal was on a not so summery summer day!  Almost as comforting as being in the kitchen with an Italian (or in my case, Polish) grandmother…

The Recipes:

Risotto alla Milanese (from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers)

Serves 6 (or 2 very hungry adults and an enthusiastic almost-one-year-old)

1/2 tsp loosely packed saffron threads

3 cups chicken broth

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

6 TBL unsalted butter, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely minced


2 cups risotto rice (Arborio)

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

freshly ground black pepper

Toast the saffron threads in a skillet set over medium-low heat until they crumble easily between your fingers, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove from skillet and set aside.

Bring the broth, water and wine to a simmer in a medium saucepan set over medium heat.  When the liquid begins to simmer, lower the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pot with a lid.

Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a wide-bottomed saucepan or pot set over medium heat.  Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt.  Saute until the onions are very soft, 10-12 minutes.  Crumble the saffron and stir to distribute evenly.  Add the rice and stir frequently until the edges of the rice become translucent, 3-5 minutes.

Add a ladleful of the warm broth to the rice, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed and the rices has become sticky.  Repeat this procedure, one ladleful at a time, until the rice is tender, yet still with a bite, about 20-25 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the remaining 2 TBL butter and 1/2 cup Parmesan.  Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.  Garnish with remaining cheese, and some freshly ground black pepper.

Asparagus Salad (from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan)

Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and wash well.  Place in a pan or skillet that allows all the asparagus to lay flat, covered by water.

Cook the desired amount of asparagus until it is tender, but still firm.  (This will only take five minutes or so).

Drain the asparagus and lay it on one end of a platter, propping that end up to allow any other liquid to drain to the empty end.  After about 15 minutes, pour off any excess liquid and spread out the asparagus evenly on the platter.

Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and good red wine vinegar.  Tip the platter in several directions to distribute the seasoning evenly.  Serve immediately and not any cooler than room temperature (i.e.  Don’t refrigerate).

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2011 11:18 pm

    Sarah, your post makes my heart happy in many ways. First, that you made it around to making a new post. I have been checking it thinking I must have missed something. Second, asparagus. I have yet to make it this summer—nay, year—and it is time. It will be on my next shopping list. Third, and foremost, Nana. I now admit to keeping memories at arms length this past year. I found a recipe the other day written by her. I can’t tell you what it was for. I just stared at it for a while. The time we spent in the kitchen with her will forever be close to my heart. I still hear her in my head sometimes and I hope I always will. I love you, dear sister. Let us always remember how proud she was of us. And I know, she would absolutely LOVE this blog. I look forward to more.

    • June 29, 2011 11:31 pm

      P.S. I can’t wait to read the article you’re writing.

    • June 30, 2011 8:01 pm

      The memories sneak up, and yes, her voice is right there in my inner ear, too. I love you, too Bethers–I hope, at the right moments, you’re able to embrace the memories…and feast on them. -S

  2. June 30, 2011 3:14 am

    Wow, that looks scrumptious!

    • June 30, 2011 8:04 pm

      Thanks Rosie! I’ve become a bit of a risotto fiend…and this one is edging its way toward the top of the list! I’m thinking of making it again to serve with Osso Bucco when my in-laws come to town later this month…but I’ve never made veal before–that will be a first! -Sarah

  3. July 2, 2011 8:01 pm

    Have we talked about Orangette? Because I love her recipes. And have we talked about her restaurant in Seattle? Because we love that, too. In fact… thinking about that right now has just brought back the I-miss-the-NW stomachache I’ve been nursing all day. I might have to move back. Please go, Sarah – if I could, I would take you there asap and buy you the works (and if you do go, and can, splurge on a chocolate chip cookie with a glass of port. You will be so glad you did). Looking forward to hearing about your boy’s birthday if that makes it on the blog, and looking forward to cooking again and trying out some of these recipes! (will meet my new kitchen on Monday!)

    • July 4, 2011 3:14 pm

      Dear Emily! I hope you and your kitchen are making each other’s happy acquaintance this very moment, and that the first impressions blossom into a long and substantive friendship! Indeed, I think I first heard the word “Orangette” (in reference to the blog) from you. And Amanda Hawkins introduced me to Molly W.’s book. And of course you and Amanda are trusted friends and companions in the ways of food. I’ve been following Orangette for a little while now, but this is the first recipe I’ve tried from it. It was a smash hit. Pictures to come. Also, we just returned from Seattle (took Joh to the airport), and if Delancey had been open I would have pushed for us to go, but it was not, given the holiday weekend. Good for them for being closed. We’ll try again on our next trip south! So friend, I will be thinking of you in these coming days as you settle into your new home, and especially when I am in the kitchen…which will be often! A hug to you–Sarah

  4. Mom permalink
    August 5, 2011 2:56 pm

    My dear Sarah, I’m finally able to catch up on your food blog (Beth
    helped me get this lap top squared away) and this post brought tears to my eyes as you talked about cooking with Nana. I.m so glad you had that time and now the memories….there are many recipies
    written in Nana’s hand and old cook books, too, that you can go
    trough when you’re here. Did I tell you that I don’t remember making Platzek with Nana, she always seemed to bake it for us as a little gift of a Polish Christmas. This past Christmas I made it myself and as it was rising, covered with a dish cloth, one of the cats stepped right on it! It sunk the dough and I was so upset! I baked it anyway and Dad said maybe we accidently found a new way to make it….sure enough! That yummy, crumbly, cinnamonny, topping that we all love, baked into the center where the paw steps were!
    What I regret now are all those times I wanted to, meant to, get over to Nana’s to bake with her and just never did. Let us not make that mistake. I want to cook and bake with you and Beth ( and now Jacob & Natalie) whenever we can. I am looking forward to this Christmas so much. Should we make our old favorite cookie recipies? Or do you have some new ones? hugs, Mom

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