Saffron Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese)

August 11, 2009

What makes the English people sprightly is the liberal use of saffron in their broths and sweet-meats.
~Sir Francis Bacon

The plants and flowers of ancient Greece culture abound in mythology, and magical saffron is no different. According to one tragic tale, the handsome mortal Crocos fell deeply in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax. Although his overtures were at first flattering, she later became bored and rebuffed his continued advances, transforming him into a passionately tinted crocus flower. Another tradition relates that he was metamorphosed by his friend Hermes, who had accidentally killed him in a game of discus. The three drops of Crocus’ blood that spilled on the ground transformed into a small flower with brilliant red stamens.

Saffron comes from the three delicate and thready stigmas of the saffron crocus. It takes 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand cultivated stigmas to create a single pound of this cherished brilliant orange-red colored and pungent bitter-honey flavored spice which helps explain why it fetches astronomical prices.

This elegant dish, Risotto alla Milanese, seduces with its delicate, creamy flavors and may be served as a first course, a side or a main dish.


6-7 C chicken stock
Pinch of saffron threads (about 1/2 t)

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and minced
1/2 C dry white wine
1 1/2 C Arborio rice

Sea salt to taste
3 T unsalted butter
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, grated

Parmigiano reggiano, grated, for serving

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the stock and keep it at a bare simmer while you prepare the risotto. Add the saffron to the stock, stir and infuse.

In a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the onion until softened, but not browned, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the rice, and stir until coated well and it begins to turn shiny and translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the wine and then ladle in 1 cup simmering stock and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice has absorbed most of the stock, about 1-2 minutes. Add another ladleful of stock, and stir regularly until all of the stock is absorbed. Let each ladleful of stock be almost absorbed before adding the next, allowing the rice to be covered with a thin coating of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 16 to 18 minutes. The risotto should be smooth and creamy yet still retaining a slight al dente texture.

Remove from heat and add the butter, parmigiano reggiano and a pinch of salt, stirring well. Divide the risotto among shallow soup bowls, grate some parmigiano reggiano over the top and serve.


One Response to “Saffron Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese)”

  1. If you like saffron, you will love this rigatoni with braised chicken and saffron cream. It is unbelievable.

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