So, I need to pay close attention to today’s Tasty Tuesday recipe since I am challenged when it comes to cooking rice! Carmela Martino has done her research for this Risotto alla Milanese recipe based on her historical romance, Playing by Heart. I’m going to pull out a notepad and pencil and follow along closely. Ready to hear about her amazing story of lady musicians as well as this very tempting dish? You’re up, Carmela!
My historical romance, Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing), is inspired by two amazing women who lived in 18th-century Milan—composer Maria Teresa Agnesi and her older sister, linguist and mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. I changed their names for the novel, but I included actual historical people and events to make the story feel more authentic. That authenticity carries over into the food and drinks mentioned. Getting those details right required significant research. I scoured historical cookbooks as well as references on the history of food in Italy. In the process, learned that the classic rice dish I’ll be sharing today, Risotto alla Milanese—Milanese Risotto, probably wasn’t developed until the 1800s. But, since it’s probably similar to the risotto my characters eat in the novel, I figured Risotto alla Milanese would be a fun recipe to share with you for Valentine’s Day. Even the name sounds romantic!
My main character is the naturally gifted musician Emilia Salvini. Because she is a teen in the story, Playing by Heart is categorized as young adult fiction. However, many adult readers and reviewers have commented that the story straddles the YA/adult genre. In the novel, Emilia dreams of marrying a man who loves music as much as she does, but as the “second sister,” she fears she’ll be sent to a convent instead. Her only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father’s quest for nobility. Her first test comes when she must perform at a reception welcoming a new governor to Milan. Risotto is mentioned in Chapter 3 to highlight the dinner-table tension when Emilia’s parents disagree over whether Emilia and her sister should have new gowns for the event. The lavish reception, which is held at the palazzo of an influential count, is where Emilia meets the violinist who becomes her love interest.
My parents were born in central Italy, so I’ve eaten and prepared a variety of Italian rice dishes. However, since Italian food is very regional, Risotto alla Milanese wasn’t one of them. When I decided to make it for myself, I turned to my brother for advice. He’s the family foodie and loves to cook. He sent me to a recipe on the Food & Wine website that is basically how he prepares it. I’ve adapted the recipe as follows.
Carmela’s Risotto alla Milanese
5 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 TBLS extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped leeks (the original recipe calls for onion, which I can’t eat)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
Pinch of saffron threads*
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 TBL unsalted butter
2 TBLS chopped Italian parsley (I forgot to buy fresh parsley, so I used a teaspoon of dried parsley instead.)
*Note: Saffron is expensive, but you need very little for this dish. I bought a small container of saffron online, but my brother tells me it’s available at Trader Joe’s, too. The saffron is what gives this dish its distinctive golden hue.
In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer and keep warm. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the leeks, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, over medium heat, until soft. This took me maybe 4-5 minutes. Add the rice and cook about 1 minute, stirring to coat with the oil. Crumble the saffron into the wine. I wasn’t exactly sure how much a “pinch” of saffron is. I aimed for about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon, but I had a hard time measuring the fine threads.
Add the wine to the rice and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed. Add about 1 cup of the warm broth to the rice and continuing cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly, until nearly all the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente, literally “tender to the tooth” and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce. It took me about 20-25 minutes from first adding the broth to get to this point. Stir in the cheese, butter, and parsley. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and serve immediately.
This recipe is a little labor-intensive, but I enjoyed making it. The kitchen smelled marvelous and the result tasted delicious, especially with a little extra parmigiana sprinkled on top. If you enjoy background music while dining, you could cue up a piece composed by Maria Teresa Agnesi herself, such as the one here. If you’d like to read more about the two sisters who inspired Playing by Heart, visit the website I created.
I’m pleased that Playing by Heart has received some lovely reviews, including one from Booklist that said, “Martino’s romantic read features lovable characters and is vibrant in setting and detail.” For more about the novel, and additional review excerpts, see the book’s page on my website.
Carmela Martino is an author, speaker, and writing teacher. She wrote the middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola (Candlewick Press), while working on her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. The novel was a Booklist “Top Ten First Novel for Youth.” Her second novel, the historical romance Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing), took first place in the Young Adult category of the 2013 Windy City RWA Four Seasons Romance Writing Contest. Carmela’s credits for teens and tweens also include short stories and poems in magazines and anthologies. Her articles for adults have appeared in such publications as the Chicago Tribune, Catholic Parent, and multiple editions of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. Carmela has taught writing workshops for children and adults since 1998, and she blogs about teaching and writing at www.TeachingAuthors.com
That sounds absolutely delicious, Carmela! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe, and I can’t wait to read Playing by Heart. I love books about musicians and combined with the historical aspects makes it all the more tempting for me.
Do you enjoy rice with fun and intriguing ingredients like cheese and saffron? What other ways have you dressed up rice?
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