Do you like rice dishes or do you just miss your favorite Italian during these times? Then let’s see together how to cook a good and creamy saffron risotto. Risotto is a wonderful dish that works with and without a side dish. You can vary this basis endlessly, you will find a small list of possibilities at the end of the recipe.
I was fortunate that I was able to attend a training course at an Italian risotto rice farmer about eight years ago. Who could you learn more about rice from than someone who has made a living with it for generations? I would like to share this secret with you now. Of course, I have varied and improved the basic recipe a little over the years.
I hope you enjoy it and I am sure that you will be able to achieve better results with less effort in the future.
- 1 A brief product knowledge
- 1.1 The rice
- 1.2 What should you look out for when shopping your risotto rice?
- 1.3 The broth
- 1.4 The cheese
- 1.5 The saffron
- 1.6 What should you consider when buying saffron?
- 2 Saffron risotto – are you the secret king of risotto?
- 2.1 INGREDIENTS
- 2.2 PREPARATION
- 3 How can you vary the recipe?
A brief product knowledge
Since this recipe contains very few components, product quality is even more important. So let’s start today with a little product knowledge or if you want to jump straight to the recipe, just click here.
The main ingredient for this dish is of course the rice. It is divided according to the respective grain type, so there are round, medium and long grain rice. Only short grain rice is used for risotto. One of the best risotto rice varieties is the Carnaroli variety, an Italian short-grain rice that is a hybrid of the Vialone variety and a Japanese rice variety. It’s also probably the most famous and usually available in any supermarket.
The varieties Aborio, Roma, Ribe, Baldo, Vialone Nano and Vialon Nano Semifiono are also well suited, whereby the term Semifino only means that the grain size is between 5.2 and 6.4 mm.
When it comes to risotto, there is another specialty that goes on the market as “Acquerello”. This is Carnaroli rice that is stored in refrigerated silos for seven years.
Within six to eight years, the proteins and starch in the rice are converted so that they take on the taste of the broth particularly well.
What should you look out for when shopping your risotto rice?
Basically, you can’t go wrong with this. I would only recommend that you do not necessarily reach the bottom of the shelf and prefer rice that has been grown according to organic or Demeter standards. I recommend this because otherwise you may ingest unnecessary amounts of pesticides. This is mainly about arsenic, which rice absorbs from the soil in a particularly grateful manner. If the rice then grows in areas where water contaminated with arsenic is irrigated, even more of the toxin accumulates in the rice grain.
Now a little less known shopping tip: recycling as a system is definitely worth supporting! This should only be avoided in direct, long-term contact with certain foods. The recycled cardboard contains mineral oils that come from the printing ink in the original newspapers.
With this type of packaging, products such as rice, pasta or semolina absorb a particularly large number of mineral oils, which you then consume with your food. Animal studies have shown that this mineral oil can lead to deposits and damage in the liver, heart valves and lymph nodes.
A strong beef bone or chicken broth tastes best, but of course it is also vegetarian with vegetable broth. The vegetable broth does not contain any collagens, which are not only nutritionally very valuable, but also contain umami (meatiness) and thus ensure that the taste adheres better in the mouth.
This effect is also used by binding agents in sweet drinks, which means that the taste lingers longer. When using vegetable broth, the «meatiness» can be increased by adding glutamate or granulated vegetable broth to taste.
I recommend Grana Padano to you. This region is larger than where the Parmesan comes from, which allows for a cheaper price. Of course, our loyal readers know that organic milk products contain more omega 3 fatty acids and that they not only do something good for themselves, but also make a contribution to better animal welfare.
In terms of taste, Padano hardly differs from Parmesan. Extra hard cheese including Padano is one of the foods that naturally contains the most glutamate. A particular specialty of Padano or Parmesan is the heart of the cheese wheel. It is the slowest to lose liquid during the 24 month ripening period, ripens particularly well and can be consumed just like that at the end of ripening while the rim has already become very hard.
A special feature of Padano and Parmesan is that everything can be used, including the cheese rind. When the cheese goes on sale, it is simply grated completely, but that requires muscles or powerful machines at home.
Did you know that even small amounts of extra hard cheese can make an important contribution to your calcium intake? 100 g contains 1165.0 mg calcium, 33 g protein and 29 g fat.
Saffron comes from the crocus species “Crocus sativus” and is a coloring and aromatic plant that originally comes from the Near East. It was already known in antiquity and came to Spain with the Romans. The coloring substance is called crocetin. Together with vanilla and cinnamon, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world today. It is so expensive because harvesting is laborious manual labor and only the stylus, i.e. three per plant, is used as a spice.
What should you consider when buying saffron?
The price per kilo of saffron is extrapolated up to € 30,000. As with anything that is extremely expensive, there is a lot of cheating when it comes to selling saffron. I therefore recommend that you only buy whole threads of saffron or ground saffron only from dealers you trust. Also read the list of ingredients on the packaging carefully, as all of this is legal if it is printed somewhere on the packaging.
Often, ground saffron is stretched with the addition of much cheaper turmeric and then given some imaginary name. It is better to buy saffron from traders with a permanent place of business and avoid the market stall next to the tourist attraction.
500 g Carnaroli rice or other short grain rice
1 l beef, chicken or vegetable broth – hot and well seasoned (a little more if necessary)
100 ml white wine
50 g onions or shallots – very finely chopped
1 – 2 cloves of garlic – peeled and the germ removed
2 tbsp simple olive oil
50 g cold butter – diced or to taste
50 g grated Padano or more to taste
15 pieces of saffron threads, or to taste – pour a little hot broth over them and leave to stand (this will dissolve the crocetin and the saffron will color better).
Warning: too much saffron can taste “tinny” and in the worst case scenario can be fatal.
2 – 3 bay leaves
Salt, black pepper, cayenne, stock cube
- Preheat a suitable saucepan over medium heat. In it, sauté the onion cubes with the oil until colorless.
- Add the rice grains and warm the rice, stirring, until it is translucent and hot.
- Add the garlic, sauté briefly, deglaze everything with white wine and let it boil off completely.
- Fill up with 750 ml of hot broth (1 part rice to 1.5 parts liquid in the 1st step), add the bay leaves and the soaked saffron, bring everything to a boil, put on the lid and then let it simmer for 15 minutes over the lowest heat.
(Alternative: kettle and stock cube if there is no fresh stock in the house.)
- Here you can also take a break / wait. The rice will not be overcooked because it cannot absorb more liquid than is available. It can burn extremely if the pot gets too hot. Whoever receives guests now has some leeway.
If you want to continue: try the rice, season to taste, turn the heat back up and gradually add the remaining hot liquid to the desired consistency while stirring.
Stirring causes the starch to loosen from the grain of rice and it begins to bind, while boiling causes the starch to gelatinize.
- When the desired consistency is reached, reduce the heat and stir in the cold butter cubes and the parmesan. Season to taste and serve on preheated plates.
The risotto is perfect when it just wants to flow and that can only barely. You can remove the garlic cloves and bay leaves after cooking.
Tip to taste: If the rice tastes watery, then umami is missing. You can increase this with more Padano or more stock cubes. It is easy to bear in mind that the stock cubes must first boil completely before the umami is dissolved. If the padano and butter are already in the pot, it shouldn’t necessarily boil completely again.
A little tip to anyone with a good metabolism or to anyone who wants to gain weight: In star cuisine, significantly more cold butter and more cheese would disappear in the risotto. It just tastes really good and nobody knew why until now :-).
How can you vary the recipe?
You can vary the recipe by adding herbs or pesto at the end instead of saffron; by replacing part of the broth with strained tomatoes or by using the filtered soaking water / soaking broth of dried mushrooms with the broth and adding the washed and chopped mushrooms at the end.
It is also very tasty with cicorino rosso, pears, Gorgonzola and roasted walnuts or by replacing the oil or butter in parts with cubes of beef or veal bone marrow and deglazing everything with red wine. Fish or poultry can also be seasoned with lemon juice and peel.
For spinach risotto you can steam about 300 g frozen spinach and then squeeze it out. Prepare the risotto without saffron and shortly before the end add the spinach, padano and butter and mix everything well. Caution: Green vegetables should never be left covered with hot, as this will turn them gray very quickly. Although this is not harmful to health, it does not look very tasty.
Cooked too much risotto? The leftovers can be used to make delicious arancini, a kind of Italian rice croquette, in which legumes such as chickpeas are sometimes incorporated.
I hope you enjoy cooking this legendary dish of Italian cuisine. Write to me whether you were able to delight your «Nonna» with your risotto and noticed a difference or if you are also interested in another variant.