Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto is one of our family's comfort foods.  In the realm of Italian Foods, this ranks right up there with Pizza, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  It may even outrank them since risotto often means Supplì are not far behind. 

There are many forms of risotto and lots of changes you can make, but Risotto alla Milanese is the greatest and highest form of the dish.  The addition of saffron gives the dish an elegance that is hard to describe from the golden color to the delicious fragrance.  The legend has it that on September 8th 1584, the daughter of master glassmaker Valerio of Flanders was marrying her father's assistant.  The master glassmaker had nicknamed his apprentice "Zafferano" after he used saffron to stain the glass gold in Milan's Cathedral.  He joked that Zafferano liked the ingredient so much that he would even put it in his risotto.  What awe and amazement there must have been when the servers brought out that first rendition of Risotto alla Milanese at the wedding reception!

I have a basic recipe that can be changed depending on what you are serving with it, or what is on hand. I would not say we are "strict traditionalists" when it comes to risotto, but that does not mean I am not full of strong opinions!  I do reject a fair bit of modern notions when it comes to risotto; why fix what isn't broken?  I do not like a lot of the fusion recipes out there, but to each their own. I reject the notion of Risotto alla Carbonara.  While we are at it... why do some people put cream and peas in their Spaghetti alla Carbonara! It is so wrong. Sorry.  There are some choices we make because of who we are feeding, or what we will be doing with the risotto, and there are some choices we make because it's just better.

Use Carnaroli Rice.

Yes, Arborio Rice is the most available, and it's fine... it's just fine.  I enjoy this article: 3 Types of Rice to Use for Risotto (and Which to Skip).  I agree with the assessment of Carnaroli rice.  The biggest reason I like it is that it is very forgiving.  I usually have the kids help, particularly in ladling and stirring in the broth.  Arborio goes from perfect to mushy very quickly, in my opinion, whereas Carnaroli can take a lot more liquid before it moves away from al dente.

Use the Right Wine.

Un-oaked dry white wine... unless you use something else.    Honestly, there are a lot of choices.  You want to use some sort of alcohol to dissolve alcohol-soluble flavors... and just make it all taste good.  If in doubt, use a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio.  Both are very good, and good bottles are not real expensive.  Do NOT use cheap cooking wine.  Use something that you would be willing to drink by itself. 2 Buck Chuck is borderline, depending on the day.  Avoid Chardonnay, it's too oaky.  Leftover Champagne is a great choice, just nothing too sweet, and then you would call it Risotto allo Champagne.  Barolo or another dry red is another great choice... then you would have Risotto al Barolo.

Use Quality Ingredients.

Risotto is, at its essence, a method of concentrating flavors into the rice.  You have to remember that whatever you use, is going to get distilled down and concentrated.  If you use cheap stuff, it will taste cheap.  That is not to say you have to make it super expensive either.  Use homemade broth, fresh vegetables, good wine, and nice cheese.  I would recommend Bon Appetit's Vegetable Stock Recipe and a combination of Michael Ruhlman's and Judy Rodgers's recipes for broth.

In the above picture, I am using dried garlic and shallots.  I have two reasons for this.  First and foremost... I couldn't be bothered to cut up fresh ones.  Second... Sometimes I prefer dried spices for their consistency, especially if I am going to make Supplì with the Risotto.  I do rehydrate them in some wine, and they work just fine... if you use quality spices.


Mise en place

I can not emphasize how important it is to get everything together before you start.  The first thing I do is get my broth heating.  Salt and Pepper the broth to taste. I get the cheese grated, and if I am using dried stuff, I start that soaking in wine.  When the broth is hot, I pour a little into a cup with a pinch of saffron.

Il Soffritto

Lightly cook the Onion, Garlic, and Shallot in a little butter or olive oil till soft and fragrant.

La Tostatura

At this point, you can add the rice.  You want to draw moisture out of the rice, so you can get maximum flavor INTO the rice, and you want a little bit of toastiness to it.  If it starts smelling like popcorn kernels, you are going to far... add the wine right away.  There is some debate on this.  Some places say you want the rice to take on color... so cook 7-10 minutes.  Some say to say only coat with oil and then add wine.  I am in the 2-5 minute camp.  I look for the outside of the rice to become translucent.

(not my picture... it was floating unclaimed out in the forums on the internet)

Lo Sfumato

This is my second favorite part.  Add the wine.  I feel like this adds more flavor in one punch than anything else.  The pan gets deglazed, alcohol soluble flavors get... dissolved and stuff... and the rice absorbs it all.  You want the wine to be all but completely absorbed at this step.

La Cottura

This is where I most value my helpers.  My 10-year-old is just about completely trained in the art of stirring risotto.  I know people, a couple of my sisters included, who will use the oven method of making risotto, and I am sure it is very tasty... but I think risotto should be stirred for a superior taste and texture. You want to be stirring often, but not constantly.
The broth is added a little at a time, kept at a gentle simmer.  The first bit will be the most, and you want it to cover the top as pictured above.  Note I am using chicken broth this time, that is what I had.  Some people will say Risotto alla Milanese should only use beef broth.  I have seen a lot of contradicting recipes.  If it is Lent, we might even use Vegetable Broth... scandalous... I know.  If you are not adding saffron to make it alla Milanese then you can throw tradition to the wind and use whatever will compliment your meal.

When the broth gets low, add more.  Around the second time adding broth, also add the broth that has been soaking the saffron.

After 10 minutes of cooking, start checking the risotto for doneness.  The grains will get plump, and change opaqueness to be very consistent all the way through.  When you stir, you will go from feeling like you are stirring through pebbles, to stirring soup.  Finally, the taste will go from gritty to firm.  You don't want mushy.  Carnaroli rice is very forgiving, so if you are a little unsure, it is fine to add a titch more liquid and try again in a couple minutes.  Al dente is the key here.  You may need to add some hot water if you run out of the broth.  This is ok!

La Mantecatura

If you are following along at home and say, "Hey, what about Il Riposo?"  You would be right, and I would ask you why you are bothering to read this, you are already learned in the ways of risotto!  Traditionally there would be a short rest of a few minutes, before adding the last flavorings... but I am not super patient and I just push past it.

At this point, off the heat, add your cheese, fat, and parsley.  Stir vigorously.  If I am making this for the whole family, we use sheep's milk Pecorino Romano, because we have a daughter that has cow dairy issues.  We have had good luck with Earth Balance butter substitute.  If it is just the two of us, I use butter and whatever hard Italian cheese is in the fridge.  Yes, I know the fake stuff should be frowned upon, but it is the difference between her not being able to enjoy this dish or it being too dry. Traditionally, Risotto alla Milanese has bone marrow added at the end instead of butter to add to the unctuousness. Salt and Pepper to taste again, and maybe add some granulated garlic if you feel like it.

Stay tuned for what to do with the leftovers... if you have any.  Supplì al Telefono!

Risotto alla Milanese


Olive Oil
3 Shallots chopped (or 3 tsp dry)
3 Garlic cloves minced (or 3 tsp dry)
1 Small Onion chopped small (or 1 1/2 tbsp dry)
1 1/2 cups Carnaroli Rice (or another short-grained Italian rice)
1 cup dry white Wine
4-5+ cups good broth (32 oz store-bought... if you must)
Pinch of Saffron
3/4 cup Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Grana Padano, or Asiago)
Nob of Butter (or Bone Marrow, or Butter Substitute)
Fresh cracked Pepper
1 tbsp Parsley


  1. Heat broth in a small saucepan till simmering.  Season with Salt and Pepper to taste.  Turn heat to low.
  2. Set everything out.  Hydrate dried herbs in wine.  Soak saffron in about 1/2 cup of hot broth.
  3. Coat a medium-sized saucier or saucepan with a generous amount of olive oil. Heat over medium flame.
  4. Saute onion till starts to color, add garlic and shallots and cook till fragrant.
  5. Toast rice with vegetables till coated and edges are transparent.
  6. Pour in wine and stir.  Occasionally stir while the rice absorbs the wine.
  7. When wine is absorbed, add broth about a cup at a time, allowing it to partially absorb between ladles.
  8. Add cup of broth with saffron with the second ladle of broth. Stir often but not constantly.
  9. Cook risotto till al dente.  Some resistance is good, grittiness is bad.
  10. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and butter till creamy.  Season to taste. Stir in parsley and serve.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Chapel Tour

I have not posted about our Chapel in a while.  We have a few new icons.  Towards the beginning of the tour is an Icon of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.  Below Rublev's Trinity and next to the Icon of the Pantocrator is a new one of the Crucifixion.  Finally, over with our patron Saints (near the green lantern) is one of the 12 Apostles with  Jesus.  The new ones came from an estate sale of Archimandrite Frank Milienewicz, so I am not sure where they originally came from.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Family Altar

We have seen a bit of an evolution in the focal point of our Chapel, our family altar.  I would say we are 75% - 80% finished.  I still want to build a gradine, shelf, in the back 

In the beginning, when we started using this room as a chapel, we used the buffet and a fairly simple piece of gold fabric to cover the top.

This was the setup we had when we had friends pass through and we had Mass celebrated in our home.  Father used a Greek corporal, but I always figured we could do better than a buffet.

In late 2019 we acquired an old rectory altar that was brought from Michigan for a group of friars, but then became orphaned.  It does not have an altar stone and had doors when we got it.

I removed the handles and the old feet so that I could raise the whole altar.

We raised the altar to be more in line with St. Charles Borromeo’s instructions on ecclesiastical design.  I painted the bottom with a tile design from Augustus Pugin.

We are still debating whether or not we will remove the doors altogether for the two days out of the year that it is completely exposed, or leave it the way it is.

Right around the beginning of Lent, we got an antependium from Altarations along with a mounting cover.

A friend of ours made us two altar linens one that is just the size of the top of the altar and has lace along the long edge, and the other goes all the way to the ground with lace along the edge.

The linen fabric and lace came from Communion Linens, and I can heartily recommend them.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Easter Vigil 2020

Easter Vigil 2020 will be one for the books. Never would have imagined we would celebrate it remotely in our home chapel.  While certainly not the same as being in Church, we have tried to make the best of a difficult time.  

As we have had to experience Sundays without going to Mass, I have had plenty of time to reflect on how much structure Mass gives our Sundays.  We have had to find new ways to keep the Sabbath holy.  While we are separated, for a time, from most of the Sacraments, we still have our home chapel and our sacramentals.  Before the pandemic, we used our chapel for Liturgy of the Hours and personal prayer.  I could never have foreseen this new need we have of sacred space.  I am grateful to be surrounded by images of our Lord and His Saints, to sit in the glow of our blessed candles, and listen to the voices of my children singing along and responding to our call to prayer.  This time together means more than anything, these days.

While we can not participate in Mass, I am appreciative of the televised options; it seems to add a sense of sacred time to the day.  There is a comfort in seeing and hearing something that is so familiar, and yet feels so distant.

As it were, it was a nice way to begin the Easter season, even if it feels like we are still in a type of lent.  

Khristós voskrése! Voístinu voskrése!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Holy Saturday 2020

Holy Saturday is always like a mini Lent for us.  In the way we spiritually prepare for Easter all Lent, we prepare for Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.  Every year, I think I will most of the Paschal Candle before Holy Saturday, but it never really works that way.

We do MAKE the candle ahead of time so that it can be blessed at Candlemas in February.  The gold we use is blessed as part of the Epiphany blessing.

We started making a Paschal Candle for Easter when our oldest was little.  Back then I freehanded everything and used a nail to carve the candle.

 For a 3 x 9 inch candle I use a 4x6 image printed on sticker paper.

I use a craft knife to cut the pattern into the wax.

Then, I trench out the wax with one of the wax carving tools.

The kids use tempera paint to cover the areas that are carved.

We then wipe off the excess.

Some fine work.

To get the gold leaf to stick well, I use two types of gesso.  One of them is to prepare the surface of the wax, the other is to build up a sandable surface.

While the gesso was drying we worked on the chapel.

We use a fitted cover over the altar to attach the antependium.

Chapel set up for Easter Vigil.

The gesso gets sanded down and gold size gets applied.

Gold applied.

Everyone got candles this year...

Friday, April 10, 2020


Tenebrae is a haunting and unique liturgy in the Church year.  It is a combination of the Office of Readings and Morning prayer.  During the recitation of Psalms, readings, canticles, responsories, and intercessions, candles are extinguished from the Tenebrae candle hearse, a candelabra made specifically for the occasion.


Born from a time when Churches were lit by candlelight, and the Triduum Services took place in the day time, before electric lights.  Tenebrae took place at night, often ending around midnight.  Throughout the service, everyone was cast into darkness.

Tenebrae factae sunt, Darkness fell over earth, was, traditionally, the eighth responsory for Holy Week and the fifth responsory of Matins for Good Friday.

Towards the end of the service, the last candle would be placed behind a sheet, to represent Christ going into the tomb, and then extinguished.  At that time, a loud ruckus would be made. The crotalus is a fairly traditional method for this noise.  The crotalus is also used to replace bells during the Easter Triduum.  I have seen two versions.  One is more of a gavel on a hinge, the other more of a rachet noisemaker.


This year seems a perfect time to celebrate Tenebrae at home to commemorate Good Friday.  While we do not have a Tenebrae candle hearse, we arranged the candles on the altar in an appropriate fashion.

There are six of us, and six psalms (three for the Office of Readings, three for Morning Prayer) so each person will get to extinguish a candle after a psalm.  At the end, I'll take the Easter candle from last year into the adjoining room, and extinguish it.  The kids will then go to bed in silence.

While our home celebration does not use the same responsories and rubrics that would have been used in antiquity, it is an opportunity to descend into the tomb and help all of us participate more fully in the mysteries of the Easter Triduum.