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!
Risotto Milanese is a classic Italian staple dish, often served with Ossobuco (braised veal shanks) in traditional Trattorias in Milan. But in Italian households is often made on its own, as a quick weeknight dinner. Just like this Parmesan Zucchini Risotto, this creamy Butter and Tomato Risotto, or this fall Pumpkin Risotto with Gorgonzola.
What is Saffron
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 ingredient and its value.
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.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Rice. The only types of rice you can use for 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.
- Stock. Vegetable stock or any other delicate stock is the best to cook risotto in as it won't overpower the flavor of saffron. You can also make an easy vegetable stock yourself by boiling in salter water carrots, celery and onions.
- Saffron. Saffron is the star ingredient so make sure you use good quality saffron. You can also substitute saffron threads with powdered saffron.
- Parmigiano cheese. Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese will give the most flavorful end result. You can also use Grana Padano cheese, but make sure either is good quality, imported from Italy cheese.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for about 2-3 days. Before reheating, add a couple of tablespoons of water and a couple of knobs of butter to make it creamy again.
I most often use a 9.5-inch nonstick skillet with high rims to make risotto for 2 to 4 people. Although the correct tool to cook risotto in the traditional Italian way would be a Risottiera, a large pot with a slightly rounded bottom and very high rims.
FAQ & Tips
Yes, you can of course use saffron powder instead of the stems. They're actually the same ingredient, just in a 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 describes the movement the risotto should have when you move it with a spatula. If it goes back flat immediately, it means it's too liquid. If it 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 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.
Related Recipes you might like
If you like this recipe, try also these other Risotto recipes:
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Risotto alla Milanese (Saffron 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.