Arab traders were exporting rice from Sicily as early as the tenth century, that is, 500 years before it was planted in the Po Valley, now Italy's main rice growing region. Those traders also brought traditional Arab spices to the area, saffron being one of them. Saffron imbues the rice with a golden glow?that must have thrilled the Milanese. Traditionally, marrow was added to enrich the dish, now pancetta and prosciutto stand in.
- 4?5 cups beef or chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped
- prosciutto, optional
- 1 cup arborio, carnaroli, or vialone
- nano rice
- 1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
- Salt and pepper
Heat the broth in a medium pot and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep the broth hot. Put the saffron in a little dish and add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth. Set aside to infuse.
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy deep saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir the prosciutto, if using, into the onions, then add the rice, stirring until everything is coated with butter.
Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth, stirring constantly to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Push any rice that crawls up the sides of the pan back down into the liquid. When the rice has absorbed all the broth, add another 1/2 cup of simmering broth. Continue this process until you have added half of the broth, about 20 minutes, then add the saffron-infused broth.
Keep adding broth and stirring. Taste the rice, it is done when it is tender with a firm center. The fully cooked risotto should be moist but not soupy. Add the parmigiano and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, and stir until it has melted into the rice. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
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