Anyone who has traveled around northern Italy remembers the great variety of delicious rice dishes which often replace pasta in the plains of Lombardy and in the towns and villages among the craggy hills of Piedmont and the Veneto. These staple dishes of the north Italian are as beautiful to look at as they are to smell and to taste. But the main delight is a unique texture: authentic risotto is both creamy and separate-grained at one and the same time. This means that the rice should be enfolded in a suave coating, but every single kernel should be chewy at the center—done "to the tooth," as the Italians say.
To achieve this desired end, a peculiarly laborious cooking technique evolved centuries ago in these provinces. The prime requisite is an unflagging elbow to stir the slowly cooking rice continuously during a half to three-quarters of an hour, while the cooking liquid is added cup by cup. With an ordinary pan and burner, the rice is apt to stick and burn if left unattended even for a moment. This is one reason why risotto appears in the U.S. only in restaurants or on the tables of Italian-American families boasting a strong-minded and patient mamma.
For a far easier method to prepare genuine risotto, the new electric fry pan is a discovery of hearth-shaking importance. This gadget (a number of different brands are available) is very heavy and as completely heat-controlled as a modern oven; the rice almost attends to itself in the pan, requiring only a few occasional stirs when the broth is added. To prepare the savory dish shown above, here is the way to proceed:
RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE
1½ cups unwashed, unprocessed white rice
1 large yellow onion, minced fine
‚Öú pound butter
1½ cups dry white wine
5 cups clear chicken broth (approximate)
¾ tablespoon saffron (this can be bought in shops that carry herbs and spices, as well as in drugstores)
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
Use large-size electric fry pan and wooden stirring spoon.
Put broth to simmer in double boiler. Pound saffron finely, place in a cup, fill with some of the broth. Place half the butter, cut in bits, and the minced onion in cold electric fry pan; turn gauge to 260°; stew till onion is pale yellow. Turn gauge to 300°; add rice; stir until rice is opaque-white (about 5 minutes). Add wine, letting it boil up; when absorbed, turn gauge to 240°; begin adding hot broth by cupfuls. Stir while adding each cup, pouring in the next one only after previous cupful has been absorbed. Finally add cup of saffron broth, stirring well. (Since rice varies in dryness, exact amount of broth needed to attain desired consistency will vary slightly.)
Transfer to hot serving dish. Toss with butter and Parmesan cheese to taste. Serve with rest of cheese, butter, and frizzled ham if desired.