With its fiery yellow color and spicy smell, the risotto with saffron is a loved dish from Milan cuisine: make it like a pro, with our suggestions.
The risotto with saffron, also known as "alla milanese", is a creamy, comfy dish, loved by adults and kids, inextricably connected to the city of Milan, so much so that, as time passed, it became one of the symbols – if not the first symbol – of local cuisine, along with the cotoletta and the ossobuco (beef marrow), with whom it usually make an appreciated combination, as a main course.
It is a quite simple recipe and made with just few ingredients – like rice, broth, butter and of course saffron, a spice responsible of its main feature, the amazing bright yellow color.
Anyway, you should be careful to some details, for example the rice quality or broth amount to add, but above all to the cooking time, in order to gain a perfectly al dente and creamy risotto.
Down below you'll find every step of the basic recipe of the saffron risotto, some advise during preparation and even some tips for fancy variations.
Saffron risotto: origins
The origins of saffron risotto could date back to the Middle Ages, but the earliest reported account of this recipe dates back to ca. 1500, when the famous glassmaker Valerio di Fiandra, who was working on the stained glass windows of Milan Dome, asked to add saffron to the plain risotto that would be served at his daughter's wedding banquet. Saffron was indeed a dye that Valerio knew, because at the time it was used to color the glass, in order to recall the yellow color of gold (and therefore, of wealth).
Since then, saffron risotto has spread to kitchens throughout Italy and, during the 1980s, throughout the world, partly thanks to the famous chef Gualtiero Marchesi, author in 1984 of the famous version with golden leaves (a recurring element in his kitchen).
Ingredients for 4 servings
Here you have the ingredients for the basic recipe of saffron risotto
400 gr of rice (Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are the best types, but Roma is equally good)
1 lt/ 1,5 Lt of veggy broth
2 packs of powdered saffron
½ chopped white onion
½ glass of white wine
70 gr of butter
Parmigiano cheese to taste
Olive oil to taste
Let's start by making the broth: fill a tall pot with water and add the vegetables (celery, two carrots, one onion, some seasoning, salt and a pinch of pepper) or, if you are in a hurry, you can use a stock cube (don't worry, we will keep the secret!). Anyway, if you like it, you can use the meat-based one. Wait for the boiling.
In another pot, pour the olive oil and add the chopped onion. When it toasts, add the rice as well and let it toast for a few minutes being careful not to let it stick (so stir it often).
We prefet to use the Carnaroli rice, the favorite format of the chef Marchesi (and ours as well) because it has an excellent cooking stability and stands al dente.
Then pour in the glass of white wine and stir; now let the alcohol evaporate completely.
When the broth is boiling, turn off the flame and set a small cup aside. Pour the saffron packets in the cup and stir until the powder had melted and the liquid has turned to bright yellow.
At this point, using a ladle, add the broth to the pot with the rice. Start with 3-4 ladles of broth to cover all the rice, stir and let it be absorbed. At this stage it is even more important to stir and take care that the broth never dries up completely.
Gradually add more ladles of broth, one at time, until the rice reaches the cooking time – usually about 15 minutes, but we always recommend you to taste it.
If your rice is al dente, so you can “feel it” under your teeth, you can turn off the flame. Now add the cup of broth and melted saffron and stir until the rice has acquired its beautiful bright yellow color.
Finally, concentrate on the mantecatura, the creaming: add the butter, stirring until it has melted, and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
Variations and suggestions
Dish of saffron and porcini mushrooms risotto
As we have written above, saffron risotto is often accompanied by ossobuco, as a main course, part of many typical osterias menus in Milan. In addition, the marrow is often added in the creaming, to reuse it and not to throw anything away. In fact, this should be the so called "alla milanese" version, but often the two end up being equivalent.
This risotto, already vegetarian in itself, may be enriched with vegetables, such as zucchini or porcini mushrooms – the latter, in particular, give it a really intense flavor. As we have already advised you elsewhere, moreover, it can become a delicious vegan dish, if you just avoid adding butter and Parmigiano cheese for the creaming and replace it with olive oil or margarine.
Some leftover risotto, finally, can become an excellent base for making delicious arancini or can be prepared by sautéing it (riso al salto), simply heating it in a buttered pan to create a delicious crust.