Brought by the Moors and Saracens after they settled in Europe, rice was first introduced in Italy, precisely in Sicily, as early as the 13th century. From there, it spread to the Naples area and later, due to the connections between the Aragona of Naples and the Sforza of Milan, to the Po Valley in northern Italy, where it found the ideal conditions to be grown: flat lands, abundance of water, and humidity. Still today, the Po Valley is one of the largest rice producers in Europe and rice is eaten extensively throughout northern Italy.
From its early use, rice has evolved into a culinary tradition that has come to include the very fine risotto.
And one of the most famous risotto is no doubt risotto alla Milanese. The first recipes mentioning the dish appear in cookbooks starting in the 1800s. That would appear to contradict the legend that attributes the origin of this famous Lombard dish to a joke: it is said that, on September 8, 1574, the daughter of master glassmaker Valerio of Flanders was to be married to her father’s assistant, whom Valerio had nicknamed ‘Zafferano’ because the young man liked the ingredient so much he put it everywhere, and even it to stain the glass gold of Milan’s Cathedral. Friends of Zafferano prepared a dish of rice colored with saffron as a joke, and the dish was so successful none of it was left.
While the story is certainly quaint, there is no mention of this dish from that date until the 1800s.
From the 13th to the 17th centuries, rice was only cooked in boiling water. The first change took place in 1779, when rice was ,for the first time, sautèe in a little butter and wet with broth. Later, a pinch of chopped onion was added as well.
1809 is when the recipe for “riso giallo in padella” first appears in a cookbook. The rice is sautée in butter, beef bone marrow, onion and then moistened with hot broth in which saffron is dissolved. In 1929, the Milanese chef Felice Luraschi finally gives the dish its name, ‘risotto alla Milanese giallo’; his recipe calls for rice, fat, beef marrow, saffron, nutmeg and stock, flavored at the end with grated cheese.
Ingredients for risotto alla milanese:
Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice