A bright yellow and flavorful risotto. Risotto alla Milanese, or Saffron Risotto, is a classic Italian recipe from Northern Italy, Milan to be exact. It's creamy and delicious, and it's much easier to make than you might think! All you need is good quality ingredients and about 20 minutes to bring this iconic dish to the table!
You either like saffron or you don't. It's one of those very intense flavors that can be overwhelming, especially if you're not used to it. As a kid I used to dislike this risotto, but growing up I started to appreciate this precious ingredients and the value it has.
Saffron comes from the small purple flower Crocus Sativus and each flower has 3 red stigmas (the edible part) which must be picked very delicately by hand, one by one. Due to this manual and delicate work, saffron is very rare and expensive and it became famous as the Red Gold. Consider that it takes a piece of land as big as a football field to harvest only 1 pound (500 grams) of Saffron.
What is Risotto alla Milanese?
Risotto alla Milanese literally means "Milan-style Risotto" as it's a traditional recipe from the city of Milan, in northern Italy. This dish was born around the 16th century, at the time saffron was used as a pigment for paint and was not known as as a spice.
One day, as a joke, the assistant of Master Valerio di Fiandra, a stained glass painter, added saffron to the butter risotto that was being served at his daughter's wedding. The result was surprising and everybody loved its color and amazing flavor. From that moment on, the golden risotto became popular around the region and it was often served with Ossobuco, which then became the traditional combination.
This recipe is an adaptation of what is commonly cooked in Italian households nowadays, but the real traditional saffron risotto recipe uses also veal marrow and lard.
How to make Saffron Risotto
First, put the saffron stigmas in a little bowl and fill it with boiling water (about ¼ cup, 60ml). Let it steep for about 30 minutes (1).
Finely chop the onion and add it to a pan drizzled with olive oil. Sautè at medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add the rice and toast for 2-3 minutes (2). Pour the wine (3) and let the alcohol evaporate for a minute, then add enough stock to barely cover the rice and bring to simmer, then turn the heat to low (4).
Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring it with a wooden spoon occasionally and adding more stock when it gets absorbed. Add the saffron water to the rice (5) and keep cooking the rice for about 10 more minutes, until the rice is al dente.
Turn off the heat and add the butter and the grated Parmigiano cheese (6). Stir well until it’s all incorporated. Serve the creamy risotto immediately.
FAQ & Tips
Yes, you can of course use saffron powder instead of the stems. They're actually the same ingredient, just in different form. Follow the same recipe directions.
The definition of the perfect risotto consistency in Italian is called "all'onda", which means "like a wave". This describe the movement the risotto should have when you move it with a spatula. If it goes back flat imediately, it means it's too liquid. If stays up it means it's too dry. It should make a soft wave and very very slowly go back flat. It should be creamy, not soupy.
The only types of rice you can use for a risotto are Carnaroli and Arborio. Nothing else. This is because these 2 types of rice have the perfect amount of starch to make the risotto creamy and also the perfect byte and consistency after the cooking time.
You can serve it on its own as a main dish, but if you really want to make it the traditional way, you should serve it with Ossobuco (veal shanks). This is how they would serve it in any traditional restaurant in Milan.
If you like this recipe, try also these other Risotto recipes:
- Butter and Tomato Risotto
- Parmesan Zucchini Risotto
- Asparagus Risotto
- Seafood Risotto
- Pumpkin and Porcini Mushrooms Risotto
- 1 teaspoon Saffron
- 1 cup Risotto Rice, Carnaroli
- ½ White Onion
- ¼ cup White Wine
- 2 cups Vegetable Stock
- 2 tablespoon Butter
- ⅓ cup Parmigiano cheese
- Olive Oil
- Put the saffron in a little bowl and fill it with boiling water (about ¼ cup, 60ml). Let it steep for about 30 minutes.
- Finely chop the onion and add it to a pan drizzled with olive oil. Sautè at medium heat a couple of minutes, then add the rice and toast for 2-3 minutes.
- Pour the wine and let the alcohol evaporate for a minute, then add enough stock to barely cover the rice and bring to simmer, then turn the heat to low.
- Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring it with a wooden spoon occasionally and adding more stock when it gets absorbed.
- Add the saffron water to the rice and keep cooking the rice for about 10 more minutes, until the rice is al dente.
- At the end of cooking the rice should still have some liquid but not too much. If it’s too dry add a bit more stock or water, if it’s too soupy, turn the heat to high for the last 5 minutes to evaporate more liquid.
- Turn off the heat and add the butter and the grated Parmigiano cheese. Stir well until it’s all incorporated. Serve the creamy risotto immediately.
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.
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