Risotto alla milanese e risotto all'estate

Onion, medium, very finely chopped (I use a mini food processor)
Butter, 8 tbsp
Arborio (short-grain Italian) rice, 2 cups
Chicken broth, kept hot, 6 cups
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Alla milanese
Dry white wine, 1/2 cup
Saffron threads, 1/2 tsp
Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated, 1 cup

Dry rosé wine, 1/2 cup
Asiago, finely grated, 1 cup
Heavy or double cream, 1/2 cup

Vegetable medley
Olive oil, 2 tbsp
Butter, 1 tbsp
Garlic, 2-3 cloves, crushed and finely chopped
Shallot, finely chopped, 2 tbsp
Fresh basil, 1/2 cup, coarsely chopped
Hot red pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp
Zucchini, small, 1, diced into 1 cm pieces
Summer (yellow) squash, small, 1, diced into 1 cm pieces
Red bell pepper, 1/2, diced
Orange bell pepper, 1/2, diced
Yellow bell pepper, 1/2, diced
Spring onion, 1-2, chopped into 1 cm pieces

Optional: Sliced crimini mushrooms, sliced asparagus "coins", crumbled guanciale or bacon, chopped fresh tomatoes

1. In a heavy saucepan that's large enough to hold the rice with plenty of room left over, cook onion in 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat until translucent and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
2. Stir in the rice and cook it over medium heat for about three minutes.
3. Add the wine (white for classic milanese, rosé for the estate variation), 2 cups of broth, and saffron (for milanese; it gets overwhelmed by the extra ingredients otherwise).
4. Turn the heat to high until the broth comes to a simmer and then adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer.
5. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring every 2 minutes. If you are making risotto all'estate and haven't started the vegetable medley yet, start now.
6. Add another cup of broth and keep cooking, stirring, and adding broth until the rice is cooked through but al dente.
7. Stir in the butter, cheese (parmigiano for milanese; asiago for all'estate) and cream for all'estate.
8. Season with salt and pepper.
9. Stir in the vegetable medley if desired (see below).

Vegetable medley for all'estate
5a. Before starting the risotto or while cooking it (if you're fairly experienced), heat 2 tbsp of olive oil with 1 tbsp of butter over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan.
6a. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened and fragrant.
7a. Add the zucchini and squash, followed by the chopped peppers (and mushrooms or asparagus, if desired).
8a. Season with salt, pepper and hot pepper flakes, and sauté until just tender but still firm to the bite, about 7 minutes.
9a. Add basil and spring onion, sautéing for another 3 minutes.
10a. Add more salt and pepper if needed, to taste.
11a. Add a splash of rosé and simmer until alcohol has evaporated.
12a. Turn off heat and add crispy guanciale, bacon or fresh tomatoes, if desired.
13a. Stir into risotto, as above, or set aside for other recipes (see suggestions below).

The story:
My grandmother made her rice dishes in a deep skillet with chicken broth and tomato sauce, or sometimes with browned onions...but never butter. (Basic fact: Butter is much more frequently found in Northern Italian cooking, with its French and German influences, than Southern Italian cooking, which relies heavily on olive oil and shares more similarities with Spanish and Greek cuisine.) Risotto alla milanese is a classic northern Italian dish (and I am of Southern Italian descent), but it's near and dear to my heart. Several years ago, I moved into my very first apartment of my own, without roommates, and it was the first dish I cooked for myself. I had just broken up with a boyfriend, and although I knew he and several of my friends were also home alone that night, I steeled myself not to call anyone. My risotto simmered away, saffron lingering in my kitchen like a long-lost memory. I grilled scallops in lemon butter to complement the risotto, and as the scallops cooked, I kept thinking, I should share this with someone. Good food should always be shared. 

In general, that's still my philosophy - I'd always rather cook for someone other than myself. But on that long ago Friday night, I knew I needed to learn a lesson about enjoying my own company, so I poured myself a glass of white wine, sat down at my dining table (which, at the time, seated eight people comfortably), and enjoyed every last bite of risotto...alone. 

The all'estate variation is based on a summer vegetable pasta dish with an asiago cream sauce that my sister invented/discovered eight or nine years ago...to make that dish, you simply add all the wine at the end of the vegetable medley, instead of to the arborio, reduce it, and then stir in the cream and asiago before tossing with gemelli or other pasta. I've never managed to get the quantities of vegetables quite right, so I'll often sauté many more veggies than I need and freeze portions for later. They make easy filling for omelettes and frittate, and also toss well with quinoa for a side dish or a light lunch.

Toddler rating: Total rejection. Spit out risotto, refused to open mouth for zucchini or squash (despite eating zucchini in the past), pretended to want red bell pepper but only because he had mistaken it for tomato (and he loves to feel tomatoes squish between his fingers).

Risotto all'estate

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