This saffron risotto is a classic of Milanese cuisine. Its secret? There are two: the proper use of saffron and beef marrow. If you then enhance your risotto alla Milanese with summery courgette blossoms and porcini mushrooms, they will make even the most demanding guest shine.
Spice, gold and glass artists
For thousands of years, saffron, which comes from the Near East, coloured the clothes and dishes of the rich. In addition, it was coveted as a remedy and aphrodisiac, which at times was weighed out with gold. Southern Italy was once one of the largest cultivation areas in the Mediterranean. The noble spice spread further north along the Via Francigena, the Franconian Way. Around 200,000 saffron crocuses yield 1kg of saffron threads. Harvesting the delicate blossom stigmas is still done by hand today.
The legend behind the risotto alla Milanese
In art, the golden-yellow saffron was considered a symbol of the sun and the divine. Valerio di Fiandra, a glass artist from Flanders, for example, worked with saffron to create new windows for Milan Cathedral. For his daughter’s wedding dinner in 1574, so the legend goes, he took a little saffron to liven up a risotto in bianco (with butter and Parmesan). After all, saffron, according to popular belief, is also supposed to make the soul and face shine. In any case, the taste and colour of the risotto were convincing. In no time at all, it replaced white risotto in Milan’s restaurants.
Saffron risotto - Risotto alla milaese
- 350 g risotto rice
- 30 g butter
- olive oil
- ¼ onion
- 40 g beef bone marrow
- 1 l soup, clear soup
- 1 packet saffron , 1-2 g filaments
- ½ glass wine, dry and red, optional
- 6 tablespoon Parmesan, grated
- salt , to taste
- Warm the soup. Crush the saffron and dissolve it in a little warm soup. Heat the rest of the soup.
- Put half the butter, a little oil, the finely chopped onion and the chopped marrow into a pot. Sauté over a medium heat, stirring. Add the rice and mix well until it has a shiny coating. Pour in the wine and let it reduce. Now add the soup gradually with a ladle so that the rice always has liquid to absorb. Stir regularly.
- For most types of risotto rice, the cooking time is about 18 minutes (please note the information on the package). When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add the dissolved saffron. Finish cooking the rice, stirring constantly. It should still be firm to the bite.
- Remove the risotto from the cooker. Mix in the remaining butter and the grated Parmesan until melted. Season with salt and serve immediately. If you like, add a little more Parmesan.
Cooking with saffron: how to capture colour and aroma
Only add the saffron extract to the dish towards the end of the cooking time. This way, the exquisite spice unfolds its full spectrum of colour, aroma and flavour. And now the beef marrow becomes important in the saffron risotto, namely as a perfect flavour carrier for these aromas. Risotto alla Milanese is traditionally served as a side dish for osso buco. It tastes just as good solo – or combined with courgette blossoms and roasted porcini mushrooms.
If you, above all, wish to achieve a deep yellow colour of your dish, then you can cook with the ground saffron filaments right from the start. However, if you want to enjoy the unique, but heat-sensitive saffron aroma, you should proceed as follows: crush the dried saffron filaments in a mortar and let them dissolve in a little warm white wine (or water, clear soup, milk) for about 15-20 minutes.
Variation with courgette flowers and porcini mushrooms
For this you will need, in addition:
1-2 medium-sized porcini mushrooms
1 garlic clove
2 courgette blossoms
Before you start preparing the saffron risotto, clean and slice the porcini mushrooms. Fry the whole garlic clove and the mushroom slices in a little olive oil until the mushrooms are browned. Remove the garlic clove and set the mushrooms aside. Then follow the recipe. Halfway through cooking, add the courgette blossoms cut into pieces. Garnish the finished risotto with the fried mushrooms.