Thursday, March 10, 2022

Perfect Risotto alla milanese in Twenty Easy Steps from James W. Ziskin

Some – not all – mystery novels have recipes in them. But surely every life has at least one recipe in it. What’s your go-to / stand-by recipe? Is it passed down in your family or did you invent it? 

My stand-by recipe is risotto. I do variations on a theme, but they’re all risotto with Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Either way, the result is delicious. For this post, I’ll go with my risotto alla milanese.

What you’ll need:

1 large yellow onion

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Ground pepper

Pat of butter

Large pinch of saffron

Large water glass of Arborio or Carnaroli rice

Large water glass of white wine or champagne/prosecco

Large water glass of chicken/turkey/vegetable stock (more as needed)

Water as needed later during cooking

Small glass of peas

Lots of freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (no green cans!)

After many years of trial and error, I’ve settled on what I think is the perfect recipe for risotto. You want the rice to be al dente. Not soggy or soft. Restaurants typically take a shortcut and parboil the rice in advance because they can’t have a chef stirring it for twenty-two minutes non-stop. But this recipe has no shortcuts. It requires twenty-two minutes of uninterrupted stirring. You can’t leave a risotto to cook on its own. Be prepared to stand in front of the flame for twenty-two minutes. Twenty-two minutes.


 1. Pour yourself a drink. One that will last twenty-two minutes. Place the drink near the stove. Measure the distance with your arm to be sure you can reach it without moving away from the burner.

2. Soak the saffron in an inch or two of hot water in a mug. Keep it at the ready.

3. Sip your drink and put on your game face, for God’s sake.

4. Chop the onion. In a large pot—e.g. what you boil pasta in, or, better, a risotto pot—simmer the onions in a puddle of olive oil (extra virgin only) and butter. Add a couple of pinches of sea salt and cook until the onions are soft and translucent.

5. Once the onions are perfect, set a timer for twenty-two minutes and add the rice. If the onions are not perfect, throw them out, curse yourself, and question your ability to follow simple directions. Start again. Then toast the rice for two minutes over a medium flame, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. No fucking plastic spoons! What the hell’s wrong with you?

6. After two minutes, start adding the white wine gradually to the rice and onions. Don’t add it all at once. Take it easy, will you? Have a sip of the wine if you like. Go ahead. You know you want to. 

7. Keep adding the wine as the rice absorbs it, stirring as you go. That’s right. Like that.

8. Pour the saffron and water into the pot. Keep stirring.

9. Take a healthy gulp of your drink. And, why not? Have another nip for courage.

10. Begin adding the chicken stock to the rice.

11. Ignore the growing fatigue in your arm as you stir constantly. Switch hands and stir with the other if you can. If not, suck it up and stir anyway, you big baby.

12. Eye your drink and begin to worry if you’ve indeed poured yourself enough to see you through this recipe. Hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

13. Shrug in resignation and take another gulp.

14. Continue adding stock and stirring until the timer shows three minutes to go.

15. Add the peas. These are mostly for color, as they don’t really make or break the dish.

16. Keep stirring, slacker. And knock back whatever’s left of your drink into your mouth. Don't forget to swallow.

17. Add water to the pot as needed. You want the mixture to be a bit soupy when the timer goes off. The rice will continue to absorb the liquid in the coming minutes, and you don’t want dried-out risotto, do you? Well, do you? I didn’t think so.

18. Order everyone to the table to eat immediately, because your risotto will be Alpo in three minutes if it’s not consumed tout de suite.

19. Add generous heaps of Parmigiano to your rice. Pepper to taste.

20. Receive accolades from your guests with humility and good grace.


Ann Mason said...

This whole thing is so very Jim. Risotto Ziskinesco. Who would have guessed?

Leslie Karst said...

And if you're beverage happens to be the same as the wine or whatever you're adding to your risotto, all the better, because you can top off your glass from the bottle next to the stove...

Susan C Shea said...

I have always wondered how restaurants can offer risotto. I make it a lot. Think some wild and crazy looking mushrooms chopped fine with those onions. I even do it without the wine if there isn't an open bottle around (since I don't drink) but leftover wine from a recent party is a bonus.

Catriona McPherson said...

I love a bossy cook! And I love a recipe that only needs one hand so I can read a book with the other.