Arguably, the single most fitting adjective to describe traditional Milanese cuisine is “rich,” which applies to the city’s food in more than one sense. The Po River acts as an informal border between the north, where butter frequently finds its way into recipes and the rest of the country, where olive oil reigns supreme. Since Lombardy is a landlocked region, fish does not appear in any Milanese staple; meat is the undisputed star of the table.
The combination of meat and butter makes for rich cuisine, but there is much more to the story. Milan has always been one of Italy’s most affluent cities, happy to leave the intricacies of politics and church matters to Rome so that its businesses can thrive. The most iconic dishes of Milanese cuisine reflect the luxurious tastes of its upper class – saffron, sometimes pricier than gold, is the ingredient that sets the Milanese risotto apart.
Risotto alla Milanese
5 ½ cups chicken stock
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
a pinch of saffron threads
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer and turn the flame down to keep warm. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the chopped onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook over a medium flame until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook for 1 minute, stirring to thoroughly coat. Crumble the saffron into the wine and add it to the rice. Cook and stir until the wine is absorbed.
Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 20 minutes total. Season the risotto with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese, butter and parsley and serve immediately.
Cassoeula-Bottagio alla Milanese
This winter dish has a strong, decisive flavor and was a favorite of conductor Arturo Toscanini. It has been described as a noble, ancient Milanese dish that furnishes the soul as well as the palate, especially on a wintry day.
1 whole pig’s foot
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 medium shallot minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 lbs spare ribs
10 oz Luganega sausage, cut into 2” lengths
4 small mild salami, sliced into ½” thick rounds
½ cup dry white wine, plus more for deglazing
carrot cut into 1”x ¼” pieces
stalk celery, thinly sliced crosswise
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp water
1 savoy cabbage sliced into ½” ribbons
tsp lemon zest
12 sage leaves, chopped
tsp anise seeds
tsp juniper berries
tsp whole black pepper corns
Working over the burner of a gas range flame, roast the pig’s foot to remove any hairs. Allow to cool and then wipe clean with a cloth. Split the pig’s foot lengthwise and boil in lightly salted water for an hour. Drain and set aside to cool.
Heat the oil and butter in a large sauté pan. Add the onion, shallots and garlic. Cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Chop the pig’s foot into small pieces and add to the onion mixture. Season well with salt and pepper. Add enough vegetable stock to cover the mixture and cook over medium-low flame, until the liquid has reduced by half.
In a separate large pan, brown the ribs and set aside. Brown the Luganega sausage and the salami lightly. Return the ribs to the pan and then sprinkle the meat with white wine and cook over a moderate flame until the liquid is evaporated. Remove the meat from the pan, then deglaze the pan with a bit more wine. Add the carrots and celery, together with the tomato paste and about 2 tablespoons of water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the reserved onion and pig’s foot mixture, along with the sliced cabbage. Then lay the ribs and sausage over the top of it. Sprinkle in the lemon zest, chopped sage leaves, rosemary sprig, fennel seeds, dried juniper berries and whole black pepper corns. Add enough additional stock to bring the liquid to about halfway up the side of the pot. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, skimming and stirring the pot as needed. Traditionally the dish is served in a low soup bowl over baked polenta.
A sweet and irresistible temptation; it doesn’t need to be cooked and it’s so easy to prepare that you can make it with your children or grandchildren.
3 ½ oz sugar
3 ½ oz butter, softened
3 ½ oz unsweetened cocoa powder
3 ½ oz peeled almonds, or hazelnuts
7 oz dry biscuits
2 tbsp whole milk
confectionary sugar for dusting
Crush the dry biscuits by placing them in a dishtowel and pounding them with a meat-mallet or with your hands.
If you want to mix the dough with your hands when the butter is soft enough, place it in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and begin mixing. If you prefer to work with a spoon, begin by working the butter in a bowl until creamy. Add the sugar, milk and chocolate, one ingredient at a time. Continue mixing until your dough is smooth and then add the cookies and peeled almonds.
Roll the dough into a 2” wide log and wrap it first in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes so that it hardens. When you remove it from the wrapping, dust with confectionary sugar. For an authentic look, you might even tie the salame with butchers twine. Slice the salame, serve and enjoy.