by Rosario Scarpato
Mondine, rice weeders, were the protagonists
of Bitter Rice, a masterpiece movie directed by
Giuseppe De Santis (1949)
Risotto alla Milanese is indubitably a dish born in the Po Valley, in that part of Italy that’s found to the North of the imaginary line drawn from La Spezia to Rimini. It’s the symbol of a great Italian city, Milan, and as many Italian dishes - for example those listed by Pellegrino Artusi in his “La Scienza in Cucina e l'Arte del Mangiar Bene” (The science in the kitchen and the Art of Good Eating) - it was given birth by the trade and the reciprocal influence between the various parts of Italy.
On a gastronomic level, Italy has always functioned as a big federation of distinct flavours. It has been more unified by diversities rather than uniformity. Italians at all times have had great respect for the territorial and cultural specificity, hence for the local dishes, including those of their neighbourhoods. Abroad, this Italian gastronomic federalism has been emerging, for the last twenty years, especially on the menus of the Italian restaurants around the world: Neapolitan spaghetti alle vongole with saltimbocca alla romana, lasagne from Emilia with cassata from Sicily, polenta from Friuli and piadina from Romagna or Tuscan pollo alla cacciatora. And on these “federalist” menus, Risotto alla milanese has been a great protagonist. Rice had always been boiled in water or in other liquids and aromatized with different substances, but the true revolution was “toasting” it in translucent onion and then little by little adding broth and, once done, enriching it with saffron and giving it a creamy texture with mantecatura of butter and cheese; only this can be called risotto!