risotto alla Milanese

risotto alla Milanese

Risotto alla Milanese has to be one of the most rewarding risottos to make. If you’ve watched Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, you’ll have seen the glorious colour of the risotto alla Milanese as chef Cesare Battisti prepared a feast for Tucci. Perhaps it inspired you to have a go?

With so few ingredients in this risotto, less than half a teaspoon of Zejd’s saffron from Lebanon has a transformative effect. Stirring the rice as it slowly absorbs the hot stock, releases a distinctive yet subtle aroma from the saffron. You’ll find that the bright yellow colour seeps into the swollen rice more effectively if the saffron is ground: a porcelain or marble pestle and mortar comes in handy here. Warming just a teaspoon of these exquisite red strands beforehand makes that process much easier. Then enjoy the deep orange colour infuse in a bit of stock for 10 minutes or so. 

Although Iran is saffron’s biggest exporter, thanks to a project run by the American University of Beirut, the spice has been introduced as a new crop in Lebanon. Saffron isn’t commonly used in Lebanese food, but grown in the Bekaa valley, it benefits from the ideal growing conditions there. There’s hope that by exporting it, farmers who are turning to this alternative crop as the climate changes will benefit. 

Risotto alla Milanese honours this aromatic spice from the eastern Mediterranean making it the star of the dish. Our favourite recipe for this comes from The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers, which we’ve adapted slightly. This is elegant comfort food at its best.

serves 4


1 litre stock, chicken or vegetable
150g butter, room temperature
2 tbsp Zejd extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
300g risotto rice
1 tsp of Zejd saffron, threads crushed in a pestle and mortar and soaked in a tablespoon of hot stock
75ml extra dry white vermouth
150g parmesan, finely grated
salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Heat the chicken or vegetable stock, check for seasoning. 
  2. Melt 75g of butter and all of the extra virgin olive oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Gently fry the onion and celery until soft, for about 15 minutes, taking care not to burn them. 
  3. Add the rice, and stir until the rice is well coated in the butter and oil. 
  4. Pour over the vermouth and stir the rice. 
  5. Now add a ladleful or two of the hot stock, and stir until the liquid has been absorbed.
  6. Add the saffron and its soaking liquid. Continue to add the stock at ladleful at a time, stirring continuously. 
  7. Finally, remove the pan from the heat, cut up the remaining butter and add this to rice with the parmesan. Stir well, add a little boiling water if the rice feels too stiff. You’ll looking for a slightly sloppy consistency.  Serve immediately with some parmesan scattered on top. 

Serve alongside a salad of peppery bitter leaves, water cress and radicchio, with a lemony dressing. 

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