Marisa Masoero’s Risotto alla Milanese

With the onset of winter you expect the temperature to drop. That's fine. In fact I rather enjoy the clear, crisp, blue skied days, but not those damp, dank ones where the cold seems to seep into your bone marrow. At such times comfort food is called for. But which one?

Looking through the archives I see that Tom Cooks! was launched seven years ago this month. The first recipe was, appropriately enough, Granny Johnston's Stovies, a rib-sticking winter warmer if ever there was one. That may return by popular demand one day. I made a terrific sausage and bean thing this week - but I wrote a variation on it last year. Soup? Well, we do a lot of these. What about everyone's favourite, pizza? Did that in lockdown. And you thought this food writing malarkey was easy.

Then it came to me. What better to warm the cockles of your heart (note to self - where did that phrase come from?*) than a steaming bowl of risotto?  The most classic of all is the artery clogging delight that is risotto alla Milanese. And whose recipe could be better than that of a Milanese lady? Step forward, Marisa Masoero, mother of Elena, my Italian teacher.

Marisa Masoero

First some general risotto thoughts. Choosing the correct rice is very important. The best known ones are Arborio or Carnaroli. Don't use the long grain stuff. The reason is that risotto rice will break down and absorb the cooking liquid. It is also the reason why timing is critical. Let it cook too long and you will have a bowl of mush.

Proper stock is always better than the cube stuff, and it will make a difference here. I was incredibly surprised to learn that in Milan they use beef stock, as I have always used chicken. But I am told firmly that the Milanese never use brodo al pollo. Good beef stock is fiddly to make, but you can buy it (at a price) in good supermarkets.

Finally, the saffron. It is very expensive, especially in this country. You could get away without it, but it's worth it for that glorious golden glow. If you're tempted to use a colouring agent such as turmeric, employ the tiniest pinch you can otherwise you'll spoil the taste. And don't tell Marisa. If you forget to presoak your saffron, add it to your last ladle of stock.

Finally, the quantities of butter and Parmesan are approximate. It's normal to see an extra ton of each added at the end.

Marisa Masoero's Risotto alla Milanese

Ingredients (serves 4)

320g risotto rice; 1 litre good beef stock; 16 stems of saffron, soaked for at least two hours, preferably overnight; ½ onion, very finely diced (whisper it, but I prefer shallots); 100 ml dry white wine; 30g beef marrow; 60g butter (I have a sneaky suspicion that Marisa uses more); 50 – 80g grated Parmesan (ditto); 1 Parmesan rind (optional); salt.


Soak the saffron in about a finger of hot water for at least two hours, preferably overnight. In Italy you can buy sachets of powdered saffron, but I have never seen them in the UK. Heat the stock. Sweat the onion or shallot together with the bone marrow in half of the butter until soft. Add the rice. Stir for a minute or two until it turns translucent. For the chemists among you, this is to break down the starch a little and make it more absorbent. Add the wine and cook over a high heat to burn off the alcohol. Add some salt at this stage. Add just enough stock to cover the rice. If using, add the Parmesan rind at this stage. Simmer gently, adding the stock a ladle at a time as required. Stir regularly, but gently. You don’t want the rice to turn to mush. Wait until the liquid is nearly all absorbed before adding more. After about 10 minutes add the saffron liquid, strained of the stems. When the rice is nearly al dente remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese and the rest of the butter. Cover and leave to rest for a minute or two, before serving on warm plates. Real gluttons like me will shave some extra Parmesan over the top, and possibly some more butter.

*The cockles of the heart are its ventricles, named by some in Latin as "cochleae cordis", from "cochlea" (snail), alluding to their shape. The saying means to warm and gratify one's deepest feelings.


  1. Robert Corrigan on 25th November 2022 at 5:50 pm


    • Tom Johnston on 25th November 2022 at 5:54 pm

      Very. Any time I go to Milan I invariably have the same lunch. Risotto alla Milanese followed by Cotoletta Milanese and chips.

  2. Wendy Barrie on 27th November 2022 at 8:57 pm

    Sounds delicious.

Leave a Comment