Like a marriage between a nobleman and a peasant, elegant saffron marries with the humble celery leaf, creating a bit of risotto magic.
Arguably, Risotto Milanese in one form or another, has been served for centuries. The grains of risotto rice are bathed in creamy Parmigiano, a rich golden hue stained with the bitter sweet saffron, and possibly with a sprinkle of edible gold to satisfy the eye as well as the stomach.
Why arguably? Because the origins of this dish are as mythical as a Cesear salad or spaghetti carbonara, including the tradition of serving risotto Milanese with gold foil. Ask 5 Italian historians their opinion, and you will receive at least 12 theories on the origins of any dish.
Shall we yank back the misty veils of history, and get real?
I’m standing in our orto where most of the celery had wintered over and is now very robust. Which meant, I better chop some of this down and start using it!
The celery in our orto is extremely flavorful; it’s celery on steroids. But it is also tough and fibrous, so it’s best used cooked, instead of raw. Our celery is like some robust, weather beaten country peasant. Store bought celery is like your pallid cousin who lives in the city and is afraid of dirt.
I threw some chopped celery into a sauce on the stove, and now I was left with a pile of leaves. It seemed sinful and careless to throw away these perfectly good leaves, but as they were soooo intensely flavored, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. As an experiment, I threw the leaves, a few stalks and bit of onion into the stock pot and let it simmer for about 2 hours. Voila`! Pure celery stock, clear, greenish gold and intensely flavored.
Now what do I do with it? I was trying to be thrifty and oh, so Bonne Femme and now I’d spent more time and energy on the damn celery leaves and I still didn’t know what to do with them. I was a Bad Femme, not a Bonne Femme!
Finally inspiration struck: brodo for risotto! Normally, I use a small bit of soffrito in my risotto: that holy trinity of chopped carrot, onion, and celery. This time it was soffrito minus the celery and it was delicious. A nice flavor bump that married well with the cheese and saffron. Give it a try next time you’ve got a big handful of celery leaves, even if they are pallid city cousins to my robust orto celery!
I also had some fresh peas on hand that needed to be eaten.. so they went to the risotto as well. That’s the beauty of risotto, it’s very forgiving, you can make risotto out of just about anything.
Risotto di Sedano e Zafferano
2 cups warm celery stock
1 cup risotto rice: Aborio or Carnaroli
1 T equal parts of finely chopped onion & carrot
1/2 cup of white wine
1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano cheese
1 good sized knob of butter
10-15 saffron threads steeped in a tablespoon of warm celery stock
Olive oil, the extra virgin kind!
Proceed as you would with any risotto.
Gently sauté the rice grains with the chopped carrot and celery. Slowly begin adding the warm celery stock, adding more as the rice grains absorb the stock.
When the rice is nearly done, add the wine and let the rice absorb the wine.
When you deem the rice is ready, and the only way to really tell, is to taste a grain or two, remove the risotto from the heat and swirl in the butter and cheese.
And serve immediately...because you know what they say around our house! Risotto waits for no man! Buon’ apetito!