Risotto Milanese is an Italian classic. It's been around for hundreds of years, and its invention has been attributed to an Italian artisan who added saffron to a rice dish as a prank— though it may also be a descendant of "Sabbath rice," made by Venetian Jews. Either way, it's a dazzling dish, especially with the finishing touch of gold leaf.
Because there are so few ingredients in the recipe, their quality is key, as are the measurements and timing—it's important not to rush the preparation. I prefer using Iranian saffron threads, as opposed to powder. A light touch is best: It doesn't take much saffron to give the risotto a lot of flavor and color.
I first encountered gold leaf on risotto Milanese in 1986, when I was asked by Le Cirque's Sirio Maccioni to join other chefs at an event in an Italian castle. The great Gualtiero Marchesi made the most simple dish decadent when he placed a whole piece of gold leaf in the center of the risotto. The gold itself doesn't have any flavor or nutritional value, but it adds instant glamour that is sure to impress.
What to Drink
"Regional dishes are often best paired with wines from the same area," says Daniel Johnnes, wine director of Daniel Boulud's restaurants. "Arneis, a soft, low-acid white wine from Milan's neighboring Piedmont region, has a creamy texture that goes well with a soothing dish like risotto. The 2009 Bruno Giacosa ($21), from one of the region's leading producers, is a superb example, with a wonderfully exuberant aroma of summer fruit and flowers and refreshing flavors that cleanse the palate. An option from the U.S. is the excellent Arneis from Ponzi Vineyards ($19) in Oregon."