Il Cudega is a first for Hackney, and probably for London too: a café/wine bar/deli specialising in food from Lombardy, the generous sweep of northern Italy running from the Alps to the Po Valley. The name in the Milanese dialect means pork scratching: they take their charcuterie – and cheeses – seriously here. All are imported from Lombardy – and it’s also a great place to sample some little known northern Italian vino.
Eighty percent of the wine is from Lombardy (the rest is from other regions of Italy), some made with indigenous grapes croatina and nebbiolo. They recommend trying a glass of Franciacorta, a sparkling double-fermented vintage which tastes like champagne, but at a third of the price.
The deli sits under a railway arch, one done out with Milanese style – there are hand blown glass lamps by Stratford-based artist Jochen Holz, a bronze coffee machine glows on the concrete bar, wine bottles sit in a gleaming metal cage and bottles of olive oil are wrapped in bright gold foil.
It being December, we asked Il Cudega what Lombardians like to eat at Christmas – the answer is cotechino lenticchie – pork sausage slow cooked and served with lentils. They also told us how to cook saffron risotto alla Milanese – the Po Valley is Europe’s biggest rice-producing region so risotto is a classic local dish. The other Italian Christmas special is panettone, from Milan, and fluffy variant pandoro from Verona, both of which you can buy at Il Cudega, wrapped in festive ribbon. It’s buon Natale from us Hackney!
Saffron risotto alla Milanese
- 4 glasses of risotto rice (Carnaroli or Vialone Nano are best)
- 2 glasses of white wine
- 1.5l stock
- 2 large white onions chopped
- 250g butter
- 300g Grana Padana or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1 tsp saffron threads
Fry 125g of butter in a deep pan and add all the onions, cooking them very slowly without burning.
When the onions are brownish, add the 4 glasses of rice, stirring for 3/4 minutes and making sure the rice doesn’t burn.
Add two glasses of wine at the end and let it evaporate gently, while always stirring.
Add a spoonful of the stock(it needs to be kept warm next to the rice pan), making sure that the rice is constantly stirred and that the stock is plentiful. As the stock evaporates, keep adding more to the rice.
After 13 minutes of cooking, add the saffron.
After 18 minutes taste the rice and make sure is firm but not hard, switch off the gas and add the remaining butter and all the cheese. Stir well until all the butter is melted, and cover the pan, letting the risotto rest for up to 5 minutes.