Burning Puppets, Risotto and Lügàniga

ChiesadiSanGiovanni At the beginning of 20th Century, my hometown, Busto Arsizio was very well-known for the production of traditional Lombardy cured meats (salamini and salsiccia, popular as “lüganiga”). There’s a local saying that sounds like “Busti, città d’i lüganeghitti”, which means “Busto, the city of the salsiccia”.

Risotto turns out to be one of the best ingredients to be paired with salsiccia, and the people from Busto Arsizio traditionally prepare it on the last Thursday of January, when the entire city celebrates “La Gioeubia” feast, where bonfires are lit and big puppets (the “Gioeubie”, indeed) are burned. The bonfire is an ancient tradition to propitiate the rebirth of nature, by burning the darkness of winter. During the day, the main squares of the city are set up with piles of wood logs and these big puppets. Even the kids prepare their little miniature ones at school to be thrown on the stack. After a good dinner with Risotto with lügàniga (Risotto with salsiccia, see the recipe below) or Polenta e Bruscitti, the people gather around the bonfires and sip a good Vin Brülée (mulled wine) or hot chocolate, while the evil burns. Only a few days more, and Spring will be back.



For the vegetable stock 
1/2 onion (or a small whole one)
1 carrot (or 4/5 baby carrots)
2 stems of celery
1 potato
1 cube of vegetable bouillon
3 and a 1/2 cups of water

If you don’t have 15 minutes to prepare it, you can go with a packaged organic vegetable broth. I tried Central Market Organic Vegetable Broth and it does the job nicely.

For the Risotto
1 shallot
1/2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1.5 cups of Arborio rice
3.5 oz of fresh salsiccia (I use HEB’s Fresh Bratwurst Sausage)
3 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 tsp of turmeric or saffron
1 tablespoon of butter
1/4 cup of grated Grana Padano
Salt & Pepper


1) Prepare a vegetable stock. Take a saucepan and add water, 1/2 onion (or a whole small one), one carrot (or 4/5 baby carrots), two stems of celery, one potato and a half cube of vegetable bouillon. It needs 15/20 minutes until fork tender.

2) Finely chop the shallot. Dissolve the turmeric in 1/4 cup of stock.

3) Warm 1 tablespoon of EVOO in a saucepan and add the chopped shallots over medium-high heat. Add crumbled sausage and let it cook a couple of minutes continuously stirring. Add salt and pepper, stir and taste.

4) When the rice has taken on a golden color, pour in the 1/2 cup of stock with turmeric.When the first 1/2 cup is finished, start adding 1/2 cup broth at a time, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed. Rice will be ‘al dente’ (tender yet firm to the bite) in about 15/20 min.

5) A few seconds before removing from heat, stir in butter and Grana Padano. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve hot!


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