Risotto and the night train from Milan

The first risotto alla Milanese I had was in a trattoria just next to the huge Milan central station. It was in July 1965. I was 14 years old and on my way back to London from a holiday and was booked on the night train from Milan to London. I could tell you more about the circumstances leading up to this but Claire says I haven’t got time. 

The food on that holiday – maybe even this one risotto – left a huge impression on my sense of what good food and cooking was about. 20 years later, when I was making risotto myself in my first restaurant with alla Milanese or with red wine, wild duck and thyme or with crab or just with lemon, the memory of this one dish was like a kind of guardian angel; it had set a quintessential standard.. The rice had achieved that keen balance between softness and firmness –how on earth did they do that? the beef marrow, parmesan and saffron – flavours I had never even tasted before – cast a kind of spell over me. It was so delicious that I almost cried while I was eating it. Maybe I was just tired. Maybe I was in love. A food memory is never far from such things. But what I do know is that even though I never saw myself then as becoming a chef, this risotto had done a little magic, had made an inexorable link between my love of cooking and my choices in life. 

To watch Barny cook risotto followed by a three course Italian feast - arancini, antipasti, Risotto alla milanese (or with beetroot and pecorino for non-meat eaters) and panna cotta with Yorkshire rhubarb to finish, book here