Hue finds pleasure in cheffery, so when Valeria Napoleone, Gallery and Retail Art Administration ’97 (profiled on p. 33 of the Spring 2013 issue of Hue), offered up a risotto recipe from her artful book, Valeria Napoleone’s Catalogue of Exquisite Recipes (Koenig Books, 2012), a night of cooking was in order. Hue, who can’t leave well enough alone, annotated the recipe for the benefit of enterprising cooks.
Risotto alla Milanese (Saffron risotto Milanese-style)
2 beef stock cubes, crumbled [Hue used 2 tsp Better Than Bouillon, a concentrated stock that tastes better than the Liptonesque dried cubes in the supermarket. Surely Napoleone has access to top-quality cubes, though.]
1 large onion, thinly sliced
80 g (3 oz) unsalted butter [For people who use sticks of butter (read: pretty much everyone), this measurement is going to mean very little. It’s 6 Tbsp or ¾ of a stick.]
350 g (12 oz) arborio or carnaroli rice [Carnaroli rice sounds delicious, but Hue could only find Arborio–still much better than standard Uncle Ben’s, which turns into horrible muck when cooked in this style. Also, for people without scales in their kitchens, Hue did the math. It turned out to be two-ish cups of rice.]
2–3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese [Hue, a confirmed sybarite, prefers risotto with about a cup of cheese. But then it does get a little sticky. Also, Hue used grana padano, the brilliant but less flashy cousin (“She’s a nice girl,” her mother tells all the eligible men she can find) of parmigiano reggiano, because it was on sale.]
2 glasses white wine [Who measures their liquids in glasses?! Hue imagines Napoleone stirring her risotto with a wine glass to her lips, then, with an insouciant shrug, upending the glass into the pan. Perhaps 2 glasses means 10 ounces?]
1⁄2 teaspoon saffron powder [For those readers who lack supermarket curiosity, pound for pound, saffron is probably the most expensive substance you will ever ingest, with the possible exception of David Bowie’s perspiration, 1973 vintage. The unit price on the supermarket tag for saffron is always five digits. It is often more expensive than gold. Hue owns neither a spice grinder nor a mortar and pestle, so creating powder from the threads meant crushing it between fingers over the pan. This was not difficult.]
Salt [Hue only had salted butter, so no extra salt was necessary.]
Make the stock in a saucepan by dissolving the 2 beef cubes in 1.5 litres (21⁄2 pints) boiling water.
Fry the onion in 50 g (13⁄4 oz) [Note: a little more than half] of the butter in another saucepan or heavy casserole until transparent and soft but not colored. [“Colored” must mean browned. Whoops, the heat was too high and the onions browned along the edges. Oh, bother.]
Stir the rice into the onions for 1 minute, then stir in the white wine and the saffron.
Allow the risotto to fully absorb the liquid. Add a ladleful of stock, stirring constantly, allow this to absorb before adding the next ladleful and continue in this way for about 20 minutes (20 minutes cooking time is essential for a good risotto, do not overcook!). [Hue realized too late that the pan was not big enough. A deft switcheroo solved that problem.]
When there are few minutes left to reaching the cooking time, do not add any more stock but allow any excess stock to absorb. The rice should be cooked but still firm to the bite. [Hue erred on the side of too firm, leaving a cup or two of stock left in the stockpot. It was a wise choice. At this point, the dish seemed a little bland, so Hue stirred in another teaspoonful of the Better Than Bouillon.]
Add the remaining butter in knobs, one by one, and the Parmesan. Season with a little salt if necessary and serve immediately.
Serves 6 [Actually, it served two quite nicely, each taking a moderate portion, then hovering over the pan with large spoons, gobbling madly. And still there were leftovers for risotto pancakes in the morning.]