Now Reading
How to Make Risotto allo Zafferano: Saffron Risotto

How to Make Risotto allo Zafferano: Saffron Risotto

Saffron Risotto Recipe

A traditional, colorful saffron risotto from Lombardy, rumored to have been invented by delicious accident in 1574.

Saffron risotto is one of the staples of Lombardy, a region in Italy where rice is widely cultivated. With Italy’s reputation as the country of art and culture, a popular legend ascribes the origin of saffron risotto to art.

In 1574 an artist, who was working on the Milan Cathedral, accidentally poured some saffron (a natural pigment, largely used in the past by artists) into his rice. What a delicious accident! Lombardian saffron risotto is often confused with risotto alla Milanese. But there is one important difference between these two dishes: the Milanese version is prepared with beef bone marrow as an additional ingredient.

In the North of Italy saffron risotto is definitely the most popular risotto it is enjoyed by both children and adults. It is easy to make and light to digest. It can be enjoyed as a delicious first course or as a tasty main course when it is served with ossobuco, otherwise known as braised veal shanks.

The addition of saffron gives a colorful touch and a special flavor. There are several variations of the traditional recipe. Many chefs around the world interpret it in their own personal manner: for example the addition of porcini mushrooms, sausage, or prawns and other seafood. My recipe is simple, as tradition would have it, but with a little less butter and Parmesan.

5 Facts About Saffron

Ancient Origins:

Saffron, known scientifically as Crocus sativus, has a history that dates back over 3,000 years. It was first cultivated in Greece and has been used throughout history in cooking, as a dye, and for medicinal purposes. The Saffron Crocus blooms in the fall, producing a beautiful purple flower. Each flower yields only three red stigmas, which are the parts of the plant used as saffron.

Labor-Intensive Harvesting:

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world, largely due to the labor-intensive process of harvesting. The saffron threads (stigmas) must be handpicked from each flower. It takes approximately 75,000 saffron flowers to produce just one pound of saffron spice, as each flower contains only three stigmas.

Distinctive Features:

Saffron is renowned for its unique, pungent flavor and aroma, often described as slightly sweet, floral, and earthy. It’s also famous for its vibrant golden-yellow hue, which it imparts to dishes when used in cooking. This coloring comes from the crocin molecules in the stigmas.

See Also

Medicinal Properties:

Historically, saffron has been used in traditional medicine for various purposes. It’s believed to have mood-enhancing properties, and some studies suggest it can be as effective as certain antidepressants. Additionally, it’s been used to aid digestion, as an anti-inflammatory, and even as a heart health booster.

Cultural Significance:

Saffron has significant cultural and economic importance in several countries, particularly in Iran, which produces about 90% of the world’s supply. It’s an essential ingredient in many traditional dishes, from Spanish paella to Italian risotto, and it’s also used in religious rituals and festivals in various cultures.

Saffron Risotto Recipe

Step by Step Guide to Making Italian Saffron Risotto

Broth Preparation:

  • In a saucepan, gently warm the beef stock over medium heat, keeping it ready for use.

Saffron Infusion:

  • Soak the saffron threads or powder in 5 teaspoons of the warm stock for 15 minutes.

Cooking the Base:

  • In a large saucepan, heat 50 g (4 tablespoons) butter.
  • Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
  • Add the rice to the pan, stirring it to coat well with the butter and onion mixture.
  • Pour in the wine and continue stirring until it’s fully absorbed.

Adding Stock:

  • Gradually add the warmed stock, one ladle at a time, while continuously stirring.
  • Wait until each addition of stock is almost fully absorbed before adding the next.

Incorporating Saffron:

  • After about 9 minutes of adding stock, mix in the infused saffron.
  • Continue cooking and adding stock for another 5-6 minutes until the rice is al dente and creamy.

Finishing Touches:

  • Remove the risotto from heat.
  • Stir in the remaining butter and the grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Season with salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste.

Resting and Serving:

  • Let the risotto stand for 1-2 minutes.
  • Serve immediately, garnishing with additional grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
Saffron Risotto Recipe

Risotto allo Zafferano: Saffron Risotto

  • Author: Paola Lovisetti Scamihorn
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x


A traditional, colorful saffron risotto from Lombardy, rumored to have been invented by delicious accident in 1574.


Units Scale
  • 1 l (1 quart) meat stock
  • 80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1 small yellow onion or shallot (finely chopped)
  • 300 g (1 1/2 cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • 240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads or 1 envelope of saffron powder
  • 25 g (1/4 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper
  • Grated Parmesan to serve (optional)


  1. Warm the beef stock in a saucepan over medium heat
  2. Soak the saffron threads or powder in 5 teaspoons of stock (hot –not boiling) for 15 minutes
  3. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 tablespoons) butter. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions. (This helps regulate absorption of the liquid.). Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
  4. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed by the rice, repeat this process as necessary for a total of 9 minutes
  5. Add the saffron to the risotto. Mix well and add one more a soup ladle of stock. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the stock is completely absorbed. It depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package.
  6. The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 30 g (2 T).
  7. Remove your risotto from the heat. At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter. You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes. Arrange the risotto on a serving dish or 4 singular plates, serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!). Season with Parmesan and decorate with some saffron threads.
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 20 mins
  • Category: Primi, Side
  • Method: Boiling
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: Saffron Risotto Recipe, Italian Carnaroli Rice, Arborio Rice Risotto, Gourmet Italian Cuisine, Dry White Wine Risotto, Saffron Threads Flavor, Parmesan Cheese Risotto, Authentic Risotto Cooking, Creamy Risotto Dish, Easy Risotto Recipe, Classic Italian Risotto, Saffron Risotto Cooking, Hearty Meal Ideas, Traditional Risotto, Risotto with Saffron


View Comments (2)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

Scroll To Top