Risotto alla milanese with city ham


Admittedly not a great photo. But it was quite tasty.

I love risotto and have been meaning to make it for years, but had somehow never gotten around to it. This past weekend I made risotto with portobello mushrooms (John Thorne) and then risotto alla milanese (Marcella Hazan). The Thorne recipe turned out too mushroomy for my taste… I like my risotto to be about the rice. So I turned to the milanese, which doesn’t have much added besides butter, saffron, onion, reggiano and broth.

I used lamb broth because that’s what I had that was homemade and unadulterated. The rice was carnaroli, which is a hybrid of arborio with a Japanese breed and dates only from 1975. It is considered the finest risotto rice, known for a slightly chewy texture. It comes vacuum packed so seems disconcertingly hard until you cut open the bag, at which point air comes out in a puff and the grains become free and loose.

The milanese was great… but there was something missing. Of course I usually have it at restaurants with osso buco, so that unctuous marrow-infused veal sauce was missing. But Hazan also recommended putting in some pancetta or prosciutto. I had neither, but I did have city ham. Even though it had been thoroughly rubbed in very non-Italian maple syrup and brown sugar, and was smoked to boot, I decided to add it. It worked! Unlike the portobellos in the Thorne recipe, the chunks of salty, smokey, partly sweetened city ham blended perfectly with the unctuous saffrony-ness of the risotto. I recommend this combination.