FOOD HISTORY: Risotto Milanese

Risotto ("little rice" in Italian) is a method of cooking fat coated, rich, starchy, medium/short grain Italian rice ( Arborio,Vialone Nana or Carnaroli) by slowly adding small amounts of cooking liquid (water, broth, stock, etc) and allowing the liquid  to be absorbed into the rice before adding the next quantity of liquid. This allows the rices' starch to be released which turns the rice into a rich, creamy mixture. Rice was brought into Sicily and Spain by the Arabs in the 14th century and made its way into the Po Valley of Italy where the terroir - soil, water, humidity, etc. - was perfect to grow rice. Because of this, rice became a staple in that part (northern) of Italy and still is today. Originally, the rice was cooked in sweet or savory liquid until it was soft and eaten as a porridge. It is from this way of cooking that the risotto method appears to have been derived. While a wide variety of ingredients can be added to the risotto, - meat, seafood or vegetables - the most famous risotto dish is Risotto Milanese, in which the rice is flavored with saffron. The invention of Risotto Milanese goes back to the year1574 when the great gothic cathederal, The Duomo di Milan was being built. Valarius, a Master Glassmaker from Belgium, had an apprentice who had an extraordinary ability to mix colors. Because of this, the  apprentice was assigned to mix pigments used to stain the glass for the stained windows. One of the apprentice's secrets was to add saffron to the color mixes to intensify the colors. He used this technique so often for so many years, that Valarius kept telling him that one day he will end up even adding saffron to the risotto. Many years later, when Valarius daughter was getting married, the apprentice, to get some revenge for these comments, bribed the cook to put a little saffron into the risotto. The strange, saffron colored risotto startled the wedding guests. However, when they summoned up enough courage to taste it, it was gone very quickly. While the apprentice's revenge went wrong, the now famous dish, Risotto Milanese was born!