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Risotto Allo Zafferano (Saffron Risotto)

Creamy, buttery, and irresistibly delicious, risotto allo zafferano is easy to make and ready in 30 minutes. The fragrant dish boasts aromatic saffron threads (like Persian saffron rice), arborio rice, grated parmesan cheese for a restaurant-worthy meal or side dish.  

A close up of risotto allo zafferano.

What is Risotto Aloo Zafferano?

Risotto allo zafferano, or saffron risotto, is a classic Italian dish. It has a rich, creamy texture and a bright yellow color from the saffron threads. It is often served as a primo piatto (first course) in Italy and can be enjoyed on its own or as a side dish with meat or fish.

Ingredients for Saffron Risotto

  • Rice: Risotto is made with arborio rice, a starchy, short-grain rice that gives the dish its famously creamy texture. You can also make it with carnaroli rice.
  • Saffron: Use saffron threads, not saffron powder, and take the time to bloom the threads before using them in the recipe. This process draws out the richness and fragrance of the saffron. Bloom the stems by gently mixing them with a hot liquid, like white wine or stock. Purchase saffron at local Indian or Arab markets. 
  • Butter: I prefer to use high-quality butter, like Kerrygold, since butter is central to the dish.
  • Shallot: One finely diced shallot will do, but you can also use onion.
  • White Wine: Dry white while cooks off quickly but adds a nice flavor.
  • Chicken Stock: Chicken broth is the traditional choice, but you can also use vegetable or beef broth.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano: A hard, salty cheese like parmesan adds richness and umami. It’s typically grated and stirred into the risotto before serving.

Additions and Substitutions

Customize the dish by adding sautéed mushrooms (porcini and chanterelles) or peas to make the rice dish more filling.

How to Make Risotto Allo Zafferano

The full recipe with measurements is in the recipe card below.

Step 1: Add the saffron stems to a small dish with two tablespoons of white wine or chicken stock; set it aside to bloom. Then, warm half the butter in a saute pan over medium heat.

Saffron threads blooming in warm liquid in a small bowl.

Step 2: Add the shallots and cook until they soften, for about 3 minutes. 

Shallots sautéing in butter in a pan.

Step 3: Stir in the reserved rice; cook for 30 seconds.

Rice added to the butter and shallots.

Step 4: Pour in the white wine and reduce until it evaporates. Then, pour just enough chicken stock to cover the rice. Simmer while stirring until the stock evaporates.

Beef stock added to the risotto little by little.

Step 5: Add the remaining chicken stock to the rice. Simmer and stir until the stock is fully absorbed.

More beef stock added to the cooking risotto.

Step 6: Pour the reserved saffron mixture over the rice and stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Saffron added to the simmering risotto.

Step 7: Then, remove the pan from heat and stir in the remaining butter and Parmigiano Reggiano; taste and season with salt and pepper to serve.

Butter and cheese stirred into the risotto.

Expert Tips

  • Use short-grain rice like arborio or carnaroli. These types have a higher starch content, making them ideal for preparing risotto as they absorb liquids and create a creamy texture.
  • Toast the rice with butter and shallots for no more than 30 seconds before adding the wine to enhance the flavor of the rice; doing so seals the starch and gives it a creamy texture.
  • Add the broth gradually, stirring constantly; this will help the rice absorb the liquid and release the starch to create a creamy texture.
  • Risotto takes time and patience, so don’t rush the process. Continue stirring and cook the rice over medium heat until it becomes al dente. The rice should be creamy but slightly firm. Avoid cooking for so long that it becomes mushy.

If you enjoy this side dish, pair it with one of these dinner recipes!

A serving dish of risotto allo zafferano.

What to Serve with Risotto?

Risotto is a versatile dish served as a standalone meal or a savory side dish. Here are some suggestions for what to pair with creamy saffron risotto:

  • Grilled or roasted vegetables such as asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, or eggplant are a tasty addition.
  • A light salad with miso vinaigrette or sherry shallot dressing will cut through the richness of the risotto to provide balance.
  • Serve the size with grilled or roasted chicken, beef, or fish. You can also serve it with a vegetarian entree like quinoa balls.
  • A slice of crusty bread, like pao de sal or Dutch oven sourdough bread garlic bread is a great way to can soak up every bit of the delicious risotto.

What to do with the Leftovers

  • Refrigerate: Store the leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
  • Freeze: Once the dish has cooled, transfer it to a freezer-safe container or bag for storage. It will freeze for 3 months.
  • Thaw: Defrost the risotto in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Reheat: Warm leftovers in the microwave or on the stovetop over medium heat. You can also place the frozen risotto in the oven in a covered dish and warm it at 350°F (176°C) for 20 minutes.
  • Repurpose: If you want to breathe new life into leftover risotto, consider making arancini, crispy-fried balls of risotto stuffed with gooey, melty cheese, and other fillings. Fry them just like you would mac and cheese balls. Alternatively, stuff poblano or bell peppers with risotto or transform the leftovers by adding them to a soup.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does risotto allo zafferano come from?

Risotto alla Milanese is a timeless recipe originating from the Lombardi region of Northern Italy. Cherished for centuries, the earliest recorded recipe for the traditional Milanese dish dates back to the early 18th century.

What does risotto alla milanese taste like?

The rice has a rich, buttery flavor with a subtle hint of saffron. The saffron provides a unique floral aroma and gives the rice its beautiful golden color. The rice used in risotto is a short-grain variety that becomes creamy when cooked in broth, giving it a velvety texture.

How is risotto different from rice?

Despite its appearance, risotto differs from other rice dishes because it uses a special high-starch, short-grain rice such as Italian Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano rice. The rice is unique because it absorbs liquid without becoming mushy.

Can I make this recipe vegan?

To make the recipe vegan-friendly, you can easily substitute butter with vegan butter and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. These simple swaps will ensure the dish remains flavorful and delicious while making it suitable for a plant-based diet.

More Italian-Inspired Recipes:

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A serving dish of risotto allo zafferano.

Risotto Allo Zafferano

Tressa Jamil
Make quick and easy risotto allo zafferano! The creamy, flavorful side is perfect for busy weeknights or special occasions.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 Servings
Calories 335 kcal
Equipment
Ingredients
  
  • ½ teaspoon saffron stems
  • 2 tablespoon white wine or chicken stock, warm
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • cups arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, micro-grated
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
Instructions
 
  • Add the saffron stems to a small dish with two tablespoons of white wine or chicken stock; set it aside to bloom. Then, warm half the butter in a saute pan over medium heat.
  • Add the shallots and cook until they soften, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the reserved rice; cook for 30 seconds.
  • Pour in the white wine and reduce until it evaporates. Then, pour just enough chicken stock to cover the rice. Simmer while stirring until the stock evaporates.
  • Add the remaining chicken stock to the rice. Simmer and stir until the stock is fully absorbed.
  • Pour the reserved saffron mixture over the rice and stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Then, remove the pan from heat and stir in the remaining butter and Parmigiano Reggiano; taste and season with salt and pepper to serve.
Notes
Expert Tips:
  • Use short-grain rice like arborio or carnaroli. These types of rice have a higher starch content, making them ideal for preparing risotto as they absorb liquids and create a creamy texture.
  • Toast the rice with butter and shallots for no more than 30 seconds before adding the wine to enhance the flavor of the rice; doing so seals the starch and gives it a creamy texture.
  • Add the broth gradually, stirring constantly; this will help the rice absorb the liquid and release the starch to create a creamy texture.
  • Risotto takes time and patience, so don’t rush the process. Continue stirring and cook the rice over medium heat until it becomes al dente. The rice should be creamy but slightly firm. Avoid cooking for so long that it becomes mushy.
Nutrition Disclosure:
  • The nutritional information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for professional advice.
Nutrition
Serving: 1 Serving | Calories: 335 kcal | Carbohydrates: 48 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 10 g | Saturated Fat: 6 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2 g | Cholesterol: 26 mg | Sodium: 411 mg | Potassium: 590 mg | Fiber: 5 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin C: 10 mg | Calcium: 12 mg | Iron: 7 mg
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5 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating