Ris e latt (Rice and Milk soup)

IMG_1118Ris e latt is Milanese dialect for the Italian riso e latte, rice and milk. It sounds dull – it is not.  It is a warming, un-showy but far from boring minestra (soup) from Lombardy: risotto rice simmered in a copious quantity of full fat milk and water,  mildly flavored with a little onion and bay leaf, enriched in the end by a generous amount of butter and Parmesan, a touch of freshly grated nutmeg and a shower of chopped parsley.  There are many versions of this dish: I prefer it soupy but it is also possible to make it thicker, although it should not be risotto-like. Some people cook the rice with milk only (too rich for me) and others start with cooking some chopped onion in butter and then add all the other ingredients. I have also seen versions with chestnuts (cooked, vacuum-packed chestnuts now easily available) and even with potatoes added to the liquid at the very beginning.

Elegantly subdued, creamy-white and speckled with parsley, ris e latt is almost a culinary relict, one of those dishes rooted in a type of home cooking now almost defunct in Italy.  Full fat milk? Butter and Parmesan? Too much for these cholesterol-obssessed and fat-fearing days. Sad. There is a soothing, nursery quality to this dish that I find alluring.  Ris e latt suits these cold months beautifully and it is one of those Italian dishes that can be very successfully replicated here in the UK, where excellent milk and butter are easily available.

 

Ris e latt – Riso e latte/Milk and rice soup
For 6

full fat milk, there is no point in making this soup with anything else – 1.5lt
water – 500ml
half a white onion and half a bay leaf
risotto rice – 300g
unsalted butter – 50g
freshly grated Parmesan – be generous
freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper, to taste
chopped parsley – 2 tablespoons

Bring milk, water, onion and bay leaf to the boil. Add some salt and taste it: I generally fish out the bay leaf now because I do not want its flavor to dominate, but it is really up to you. Add the rice and simmer until it is tender, partially covered, stirring from time to time. Remove the onion at the end, add the butter, the Parmesan, the parsley and a little grated nutmeg and black pepper. Pass extra Parmesan around at the table.

Notes

Many variations are possible:
With chestnuts or potatoes: add some cooked vacuum-packed chestnuts  or peeled and cubed floury potatoes to the water and milk in the beginning and proceed as per recipe.
With pumpkin: add cubed pumpkin to the water and milk in the beginning. Instead of bay leaf, I would use a couple of leaves of sage and proceed as per recipe.
With leeks or savoy cabbage: this is not  traditional but it does work: add finely sliced leeks or savoy cabbage towards the end of cooking, to that they do not overcook. The contrast between the crisp, but fully cooked vegetables, and the sweet-savory broth is very good.

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