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Saffron Risotto {Super Creamy & Easy To Make}

Saffron Risotto {Super Creamy & Easy To Make}

Saffron Risotto is one of the most famous recipes from Northern Italy, Lombardy region to be precise. You only need a few simple ingredients and about 30 minutes to make the most creamy, delicious and colorful Saffron Risotto or Risotto Allo Zafferano (Italian).

It’s hard to find a spice more valued and more appreciated than saffron. As a fragrance, dye, and medicine in has been in use for over three millennia and its cost per gram can be even higher than for gold.

This is the reason why saffron is often called “red gold”. In fact, it is THE most expensive spice in the world!

Luckily, you’ll only need 1 teaspoon of saffron petals to make four generous servings of Saffron Risotto.

If you haven’t made this simple but much appreciated Italian dish yet, it’ll become your new culinary discovery.

creamy saffron risotto in a plate

Why You’ll Love Saffron Risotto

  1. Its bright color, delicate flavor and super creamy, velvety texture make it pure comfort food for the whole family during any time of the year.
  2. Saffron risotto is perfect dish for any holiday menu, meat-based or fish-based.
  3. It’s easily adaptable for all kinds of diet or food intolerance.
  4. It’s very easy to make with just 6 main ingredients.
  5. Don’t forget if you make too much since Saffron Risotto leftovers can be used in many different AND delicious ways.

What does Saffron Risotto taste like?

Saffron Risotto flavor can be describes as creamy, butter-y with a subtle hint of pleasant bitterness of saffron which is the protagonist of the dish.

Flavor of saffron risotto will be also greatly impacted by the type of the liquid you use to cook risotto: from neutral (if you use water) to somewhat sweet (if you use vegetable stock)and finally to rich, savory and utterly delicious (when cooked with meat broth).

Is Saffron Risotto the same as Risotto Alla Milanese?

Saffron Risotto is often confused with Risotto Alla Milanese – Risotto Milan Style. 

While these are indeed 2 different dishes, the confusion is very understandable. 

Think of Saffron Risotto as a base recipe that you can build other flavors on.

In this case, Risotto Alla Milanese uses Saffron Risotto as a base recipe adding beef marrow and roast fat, which makes it a signature dish known as Risotto Alla Milanese. 

Ingredients, Substitutes & Recipe Variations

Rice – use only Carnaroli, Arborio rice or any other type of so called risotto rice for creamy, authentic risotto.

Saffron – it’s best to use saffron stigmas or petals. They need to be soaked in small amount of lukewarm water overnight or at least a few hours before making Saffron risotto. 

Instead of petals you can also use saffron powder. It doesn’t require soaking so you can make risotto with saffron powder last minute adding saffron once rice is almost cooked.

Broth – homemade broth is the best but you can also use your favorite store bought broth, preferably the one sold in carton packs which tend to be superior to any granulated or broth in cubes. Make sure to taste broth for salt and adjust accordingly.

For completely meatless risotto use vegetable broth or water.

Make sure the liquid is boiling hot as you add it to your rice.

Shallot – can be substituted with ½ of an onion or leek. I tend to prefer shallot for its delicate. slightly garlicky-ish flavor that doesn’t cover the taste of the main ingredients.

White Wine – strictly dry white wine should be used to make Saffron Risotto. Make sure it’s medium to high quality, which means it’s pleasant to drink all on its own. Low quality wine, after alcohol has  evaporated might ruin your risotto.

Butter – unsalted high quality cold butter. For lighter version you can substitute extra virgin olive oil for butter when sauteeing shallot/onion but I don’t recommend substituting it in the last step before serving.

Parmesan Cheese – freshly grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese.

Optional Ingredients
Saffron Risotto can be enriched with extra flavors.

Beef Marrow  – saffron risotto with beef marrow has its own name – Risotto Alla Milanese, often confused with classic and simple Saffron Risotto.

Mushrooms – add extra flavor and proteins to the dish.

Fresh Sausage – a great add on for a hearty risotto that makes a complete meal.

Extra ingredients mentioned above should be added shortly after onion and cooked for a few minutes before adding rice.

yummy saffron risotto

Saffron Risotto Origin

As for many other Italian foods, there are many legends and few certainties about the origins of saffron risotto.

Some say that this dish was invented to imitate a medieval myth according to which rich people used to season their food with gold. Others think that saffron risotto was originally a kosher food brought to Milan by Jewish merchants. The most famous legend claims that it was born at the Duomo of Milan. 

According to this legend, we have to thank Valerio di Fiandra, a Flemish painter who was working on the Duomo’s stained glass window, and his assistant, a man nicknamed Zafferano (“saffron”) because of his habit of mixing the homonymous spice with his colors to make them more bright. One day, maestro Valerio teased Zafferano saying that sooner or later he would have ended up putting saffron in his food as well. Zafferano must have been either a playful or a vengeful person because he jumped at the occasion to pull a prank on his teacher. 

His scheme took place at the wedding lunch of maestro Valerio’s daughter. The cook was about to serve a butter risotto, but Zafferano bribed him into adding a pinch of saffron to it and sat at his place, ready to enjoy the sweet taste of revenge. To his amazement, the ones who enjoyed some taste were actually the lunch guests, as saffron turned out to be an amazing flavor for risotto. 

We can’t know for sure which legend is true. These myths are probably just colorful stories that the milanesi (this is how Italians call people from Milan and is often referred to all people from Lombardy region)  have invented to “saffron up” the history of their most beloved dish. They’re fascinating, though, aren’t they? 

Now, let’s move from history to practice and see how to make a saffron risotto. As you already know if you’ve read my post on how to make a perfect risotto, it won’t take much time or practice, but you’ll need to care about some details. 

Saffron Risotto FAQs

What is saffron?

Saffron is a spice obtained from the stigmas of the crocus flower. It has a bright red color and a spicy bitter-ish taste. It also has a strong coloring power: a single pinch can give many dishes an intense yellow color. Since it is usually used in minimal quantities, it will not make your risotto too bitter but will enrich its flavor and color in an inimitable way. 

One of the Ancient Greek myths tells a legend of a contrasted love between the young Crocus and the seductive Smilax nymph, contended by God Ermes, who, blinded by jealousy, turned Crocus into a delicate Saffron flower.

Saffron Stigmas/Petals vs Saffron Powder

Saffron is usually sold as a powder and added to food at the end of the cooking process. Some people, however, consider this a waste of its properties. Turning saffron petals into powder requires extra work and some of their qualities are lost in the process.

If you’ve never tried using petals, I definitely recommend you try it when making your next saffron risotto. It’s not difficult, you just need to follow the steps below instead of just adding the powder at the end. 

Saffron Properties

Saffron has many beneficial properties: it’s a great antioxidant, it works as a natural aphrodisiac and it might even have small positive effects on your mood.  Also, it can be used as a natural cure to alleviate some PMS symptoms and as a beauty mask to repair damaged skin. 

Like with all natural remedies, moderation is key.

It is generally recommended never to exceed 0.25 grams of saffron per person.

Why does saffron cost so much?

Saffron is also called red gold, and it is not a euphemism: its price is equal to the price of the gold you would normally lock in a safe, rather than in a pantry. 

Before you quit your job to become the Pablo Escobar of saffron, it should be explained that this is due to the difficulty with which it is produced. Crocus grows only in particular soils and climates, it must be harvested during the night and it requires a lot of work. 

This is why saffron is so expensive: it takes 1 hectare of land, 100,000 crocus flowers, and more than 400 hours of manpower to produce just 1 kg of saffron. 

Saffron production areas in Italy

Originally imported in Spain by Moorish conquerors and later spread in Italy by Christian monks, saffron is produced in the whole country by large and small saffron farms. Even though it is spread in most of the national territory, its main production areas are Abruzzo (where it is cultivated since 1300 AD) and Sardinia.

a spoonfull of saffron risotto
creamy saffron risotto in a plate

Saffron Risotto {Super Creamy & Easy To Make}

This creamy, delicious saffron risotto is pure comfort food for any occasion, ready in just 30 minutes!
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Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Risotto
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 ⅔ cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice (340 grams)
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion , finely chopped
  • ¾ stick butter (¼ stick for sauteeing the shallot saving the rest to add at the end of cooking), total 85 grams
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan , more for serving
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 5-6 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp saffron petals/stigmas or 1 packet (1 tsp) of saffron powder

Instructions

  • The night before making risotto soak saffron petals in a small amount of water.
    1 tsp saffron petals/stigmas
  • When ready to make risotto, add 2 tbsp of butter to a pan and start melting it over medium heat.
    2 shallots or 1 small onion, ¾ stick butter
  • Add rice, stir for another minute or two, then add white wine and let it evaporate completely.
    1 ⅔ cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice, ½ cup dry white wine
  • Start adding stock, one ladle at a time. Cook risotto on low heat, stirring from time to time. Add another ladle of stock when the previous one has been completely absorbed. Depending on the type of rice, It takes about 20-25 minutes for risotto rice to be cooked perfectly “al dente”. A little bit sturdy but not raw or grainy.
    5-6 cups chicken/beef/vegetable stock
  • Before adding the last two ladles of the stock (about 5 minutes before the rice is cooked) add the saffron pistils with water that you previously have put to soak.
    1 tsp saffron petals/stigmas
  • Once the risotto is cooked turn off the heat and add the remaining butter and parmesan cheese.
    ¾ stick butter, ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • It’s important you add these last ingredients once the heat is off. Parmesan will lose its flavor if cooked. Let your risotto rest for a few minutes and serve.
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