Risotto Milanese, typically known as saffron risotto has an interesting history. According to some, the dish originated in the 1500’s when the Duomo di Milano was being constructed, and the artists reportedly used saffron to color the stained glass windows.
At this time, Milan was a Duchy controlled by Spain. Some speculate that it was the influence of the Spaniards that created demand for saffron in Northern Italy.
People often ask why saffron is a big deal. Here’s why. Saffron threads are actually the stigmas of the Saffron crocus. And there are only 3 stigmas on each flower. If you remember junior high or high school biology, the stigma of a flower is the teeny tiny stalk that produces and captures grains of pollen in order to fertilize the flower egg and create a seed. These stigmas are very delicate and have to be harvested by hand. Thus the high price of saffron.
Traditional risotto milanese is made with beef marrow broth, white wine, and parmesan. We’ve departed a bit and included cream cheese, crab and asparagus.
If you’ve never made risotto before, refer to our Traditional Risotto post for step by step instructions and make appropriate substitutions. Remember, risotto is one of those ‘kitchen sink’ dishes, so feel free to channel your creativity and put your own mark on this dish. If you don’t have rice, or are sensitive to rice- and some people are, use quinoa. Quinoa is high in protein and fiber, and tastes fantastic. Whatever you do, it’s sure to taste delicious!