Not only is Milan, Italy’s cultural, fashion and economic capital, it is also a culinary ride for the foodie in you. Arguably the single most fitting adjective to describe traditional Milanese cuisine is “rich” — which applies to the city’s food in more than one sense.
Start with polenta, made with boiled cornmeal, and work your way through Cassoeula, cabbage and pork stew, panettone, a fruitcake of sorts, and beyond. Buon appetite!
Ossobuco, which translates to “bone with a hole,” is one of two meat stars (cotoletta being the other). Braised in a mixture of onions, carrots, celery, white wine and broth, the crosscut veal shank is fork-tender and melts in the mouth. What makes this dish heavenly is the jelly-like marrow at the centre of the bone. It’s often served with risotto alla Milanese or polenta.
Italy’s the largest producer of rice in Europe and it is mainly grown in the flat Po Valley, also known as the “rice bowl of Italy,” where Milan is located. One of the most traditional Milanese dishes is risotto, particularly risotto alla Milanese. Legend has it that this dish came about in the 16th century, when one of the apprentices working on the Duomo’s stained-glass windows decided to add saffron– which was used to colour the glass – to white rice. The saffron adds a pop of yellow to a normally bland-looking dish, but doesn’t add much to the taste: cheese and bone marrow are the parties responsible for the risotto’s luxurious creaminess.
A breaded veal cutlet fried in butter, the Cotoletta alla Milanese can be found almost everywhere in the city, the cotoletta is rich without being over the top, which makes it something that can be eaten with more regularity. It helps that there are many ways of preparing it, making some versions heavier than others: there’s debate over boneless versus bone-in, thin and crunchy (something more akin to a schnitzel) versus thick and juicy.
Despite its resemblance to a quesadilla, the piadina, a thin, flaky Italian flatbread, is very different. It’s slightly thicker than a flour tortilla and yet extremely light and crispy after being freshly cooked on an electric griddle. With its roots in the present-day Emilia-Romagna region, the piadina has conquered the lunch crowd in Milan, where it is stuffed to the brim with meats, cheeses and the odd vegetable. You’ll see this lunch staple all over the city (it’s arguably more popular than the world-famous panino).
Panettone is a Christmas fruitcake with pieces of candied citrus and raisins. There are many stories about the exact origins of this Christmas fruitcake, but almost all of them point to Milan as its birthplace. Panettone is everywhere during the holiday season, with boxes stacked high in bakeries and filling up entire aisles in supermarkets, and many people buy it as a gift for friends and family: nothing spreads a bit of cheer like a slice of this pillowy, sweet bread and a glass of prosecco. There are pastry shops that bake panettone all year round; these spots have mastered the notoriously difficult bread.
The boiled cornmeal (also described as cornmeal porridge) is one of the best comfort foods out there. Northern Italians are serious about their polenta, to the point that various societies were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries to celebrate its place in Italian culture.
Some say that a few sips of the soup will tell you exactly where you are on the peninsula. Considering the Milanese love for rice (look no further than the first item on this list), what separates minestrone in Milan from that in other regions is the use of rice in place of pasta. Together with vegetables of all types – cabbage, beets, celery, spinach, parsley, tomatoes and more, depending on what’s in season – the rice is cooked in a pleasant broth. Served hot in the winter and cold in the summer, this soup is your best bet for a solid few servings of vegetables, which don’t feature heavily in most traditional Milanese restaurants.
A warming pork and cabbage stew, Cassoeula generally pops up on menus during the colder months, when all you want is a bowl of steaming hot goodness. This is one of those head-to-tail Italian recipes – in addition to sausage and cabbage, less noble pig parts like the head, feet, ears and more are tossed into the pot. It’s traditionally consumed on January 17, the feast day of Saint Anthony the Abbot, fittingly the patron saint of pigs and butchers among other things.
Located in greater Milan, the small town of Gorgonzola is famous for being the birthplace of the cheese with the same name (although other Italian towns also claim gorgonzola as their own). The area was long a centre of cheese production, particularly soft cheese – there are supposedly even records from the 18th-century court of Empress Maria Theresa decreeing that the area be used as meadows for dairy cows. Nowadays, the blue cheese, made from unskimmed cow’s milk, is produced all over northern Italy, mainly in the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. Gorgonzola comes in two forms: dolce (literally, "sweet") which is sweeter and creamier, and piccante (literally, "spicy") which has a spicy, pungent bite.
Trippa alla Milanese (Busecca)
Busecca is both the word for “tripe” in the Milanese dialect and the name given to the Milanese preparation of tripe. This wholesome, hearty soup, which is made of tripe, beans, a variety of vegetables, broth and a touch of tomato purée, was popular in the countryside around Milan – a staple of the so-called “peasant” cuisine. For that reason, it’s not especially popular in restaurants but, come wintertime, a number of more traditional spots will trot it out as a special.
Source(s): TimeOut, Food Republic