I have the pleasure of living with a beautiful Italian-Iranian who just happened to return from abroad a few weeks ago. With her she brought all kinds of goodies that crowd our tiny kitchen cupboards. Think spices, teas, cookies… you get the picture, there's lots of stuff!
One of the most treasured treats that she brought with her however, was saffron. Valued for its unique flavour, gorgeous hue and numerous health benefits, saffron is highly sought-after but they don’t call it “red gold” for nothing. Because saffron is quite laborious to harvest (yielding only three strands per flower), it is often sold for a pretty penny. But man, is it worth it!
With a rich, ruby colour, Iranian saffron is something else. Unwrapping the small tin of spice, there’s a distinctly sweet and earthy smell that radiates warmth. This warmth multiplies tenfold after pulsing the saffron strands, which then melt away when stirred into—you guessed it—risotto alla milanese.
I’ve only had risotto alla milanese once and that was during my last academic jaunt in Italy. I met with my cousin who happened to be doing a semester abroad at Bocconi and we decided to meet at a fantastic restaurant that unfortunately escapes my mind. I opted for the full Milanese dinner experience complete with risotto alla milanese and ossobuco. I can tell you that it was at that moment that I finally understood the appeal of stewing a meaty bone for hours on end. As a whole the meal was incredible. Creamy, dreamy spiced rice and meat so tender you don’t even have to chew...need I say more?
A meal that has remained treasured in my mind since, I had yet to try another risotto alla milanese; that is until Jasmine offered to share a bit of her world with me. As my nostalgia bubble dissolved and I returned back into my Piemontese kitchen, I watched carefully as Jasmine crafted a risotto that blended her two worlds of Iran and Milan together.
It was poetic and beautiful and sinfully delicious to watch the risotto turn thick and creamy. Adding broth little by little, she didn’t rush the process at all… something that North Americans are often guilty of. In the Italian kitchen, rushing is forbidden; slow and steady always wins the race. Though this wasn’t a six hour ragù, the virtue of patience still holds true.
After a while the rice turns a delicate burnt orange. One final stir and it’s ready. With a glass of DOCG Barbaresco, we sat down together to enjoy one of our first meals together. Bonding over wine, traditions and a love of all things food, we shared a meal and shared pieces of ourselves in our new home away from home.