Thursday, April 5, 2012

Risotto in Fashionable Milan

The fashion and finance capital of Italy, Milan is a calm, cool, and collected city where traffic flows in an orderly manner and trams rumble along carefully paved streets. Innovation is part of the lifestyle, but thankfully culinary classics such as risotto never change radically. A rich and refined dish, risotto alla milanese uses bounty from the fertile plains and hills of Lombardy.

 Standing on a street in Milan, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in Switzerland rather than northern Italy, as efficiency and business are obviously paramount. Milan lies at a providential crossroads of transalpine trade routes, and boasts a remarkable heritage of art and architecture from the 14th and 15th centuries, when it was ruled by powerful families such as the Viscontis and Sforzas. Money and art continue to fascinate today, and the city is home to both the Italian stock exchange and many of the world’s leading fashion houses.
However, culinary traditions have not been sacrificed for business, and at lunch time a stream of office workers put down their technological tools and head out onto the street in search of sustenance. Rediscovering the healthy custom of a sit-down meal from bygone days when workers went home for a full three courses, Milan’s citizens now take a break to dine in eateries that range from glamorous greenhouses to traditional family trattorias.
Milan’s long-standing dishes still shine strong. Thanks to the extensive wet fields to the west and south of the city, where the country’s best rice varieties, such as vialone nano and carnaroli, are successfully cultivated, risotto is a constant on city menus – especially risotto alla milanese. The cooking process is drawn out, like the eating. It begins with a slow soffritto, where an onion is gently sweated in olive oil. The rice is added and stirred, and then the heat is turned up, and a rich, meaty broth is added, in small ladlefuls – one containing a pinch of saffron – until the rice is just tender. Finally, butter and grated parmigiano cheese are beaten in, giving the rice a creamy texture and satin finish. The dish is also known as risotto giallo (yellow) for its saffron-bestowed golden sheen.
Saffron is the dried filaments of a type of crocus grown in limited quantities in Abruzzo in southern Italy, as well as in Spain, but it originated in Persia, as did its name. The pretty lilac flowers are painstakingly harvested to produce the most expensive spice in the world, lending Milan’s version of this most Italian of dishes the warm yellow of a gentle Italian sun.
ABOVE: The rice is stirred as it absorbs ladleful after ladleful of stock until just the right consistency is achieved .

 A Day in Milan 
ABOVE:  Milan’s Duomo is a 14th-century masterpiece of Gothic architecture, built under the reign of the Visconti family.
Milan has some superb cultural and architectural sights, but leave time for a round of clothes-shopping at the many fashion outlets.
 MORNING: Take a tram or the metro to Piazza del Duomo and the fantastic Gothic cathedral. Take the elevator or the winding stairs to its roof terraces for bird’s-eye views over the city and north to the Alps. Then stroll through the grandiose Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade to reach the world-famous La Scala opera house. Continuing in the same direction, you’ll reach the Pinacoteca di Brera, a cavernous palazzo housing a rich collection of Italian art.
AFTERNOON : Head to Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie to gaze on one of the world’s masterpieces in a more modest setting – Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper is painted on the walls of the convent’s refectory. Relaxing time out can be spent exploring the vast Renaissance brick Castello Sforzesco and its adjacent park.
EVENING:  Wander along the Navigli canals and enjoy a drink or meal at the waterside bars and restaurants.
 Milan has two airports; Malpensa has frequent trains and buses to the city, while Linate has only a bus link. International and domestic trains run into Milano Centrale station, to connect with the metro, tram, and bus network.
Hotel Bernina (inexpensive) is a businesslike hotel that’s a bargain and handy for the train station. Antica Locanda Leonardo (moderate) is a charming, 19th-century boutique hotel near Santa Maria delle Grazie. Bulgari (expensive) offers stylish modern suites and a relaxing garden.
Piazza Castello 1;
 The Best Places to Eat Risotto
 Trattoria Milanese moderate 
 Reservations are highly recommended here, especially for evening dining, as this bustling restaurant is immensely popular with the Milanese for its traditional cuisine. But don’t expect a romantic candlelit atmosphere – this time-tested trattoria has been a serious eating place since 1933, and diners here want to see their meal. Guests are welcomed at the door and ushered into a dining room infused with mouthwatering smells and lined with shelves crammed with precariously balanced bottles and platters of freshly prepared vegetables and sweets. Tables are often shared, encouraging friendly banter and discussion of meal choices. The uniformed waiters never tire of explaining the menu of the day, though most people come here for the signature dish, risotto alla milanese. Served piping hot at half-hour intervals, the delicately yellow rice comes out of the kitchen on a flat plate, which allows it to spread to the edges and cool uniformly. On request it can be dished up with osso bucco on top.
Via Santa Marta 11, Milan; open noon–2:45 PM and 7 PM–12:45 AM Mon–Fri; +39 2 41 8645 1991
Also in Milan
 Going strong since 1921, Trattoria Masuelli San Marco (; expensive) has crisp white tablecloths, immaculate service, and an affable owner who offers you a personal elucidation of the day’s dishes. Here the risotto alla milanese is proudly prepared with fresh saffron pistils and is exceptionally fragrant. Meats fresh and cured from the family property include cotechino, a flavorsome sausage served with fondue.
 Also in Italy
La Risotteria Melotti (; moderate) in Isola della Scala, just outside Verona in the Veneto, has 24 creamy risottos on the menu. Each is masterfully created using the vialone nano veronese rice grown locally on the family property. One house specialty, risotto all’isolana, is a justifiable favorite for its unusual match of veal and pork with fresh rosemary and cinnamon, while the risotto con zafferano e finferli with saffron and wild mushrooms is delicate and heavenly.
 Around the World
As its name suggests, RisOTTO (www.ris-otto. de; inexpensive) in Berlin serves only risotto. Guests can perch on stools and watch the chef at work, creating imaginative variations such as pea and lime or zucchini and cinnamon risotto. Open for lunch and early-evening meals, this is a great casual stop. 
What Else to Eat
One of Milan’s tasty staples is osso bucco, rich and succulent braised veal shank. This is often twinned with risotto alla milanese to great effect, as the sauce blends perfectly with the rice. Another meat treat is cotoletta alla milanese, a slice of veal layered with ham and cheese, then breaded and fried. Around the beginning of December each year, the windows and counters of the city’s leading pasticceria (pastry shops) start filling up with huge, festively wrapped packages. Panettone, literally “big bread,” is a fragrant, soft, yeasty cake baked with dried fruit such as raisins and candied orange peel. It is traditionally consumed during Christmas celebrations with a glass of sparkling wine, but cooks have begun to play with this age-old recipe, adding fillings or sauces such as ice cream or layers of melted chocolate.

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