Saffron Pasta: the Light & Delicious Option

As the king of spices, saffron lends itself to being the main flavor in some fabulous dishes. While many are familiar with Risotto alla Milanese, or yellow saffron rice, few know that Northern Italians enjoy their saffron on pasta as well. Here is a recipe for my favorite type of saffron pasta, which is quick and easy to make but is sure to please your palate and your guests’.

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  •  Pasta (approx. 16 oz). Any kind will work, although pasta made from Farro grain is my personal favorite for this recipe.
  • One pinch of saffron: I prefer filaments, ground in a mortar, but powder is OK 
  • One half onion, chopped
  • Four tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Two cups beef or chicken broth
  • Salt, pepper, grated Parmigiano

Boil approximately 5 quarts of salted water in a large pan, fire on high. While the water heats up, place the chopped onion in a small saucepan with the olive oil, and sautee until blonde, then add the broth and let simmer over low fire.  

When the water boils, add the pasta, give it one stir and cook until *very* al dente. Strain the pasta (but never overstrain, and, please–never rinse! That’s what old German ladies do!), discard the cooking water and return to the large pan. Then, add the sauce over low fire, stirring often. When the pasta has absorbed about 75% of the broth, add the saffron and stir until the golden yellow/reddish color is spread uniformly through the pasta.

In a large, shallow salad bowl, grate the Parmigiano and pour the cooked pasta over it. (Remember: the cheese always goes *under* the pasta, never over it in good Italian tradition.) Add freshly-ground pepper and stir, so that the Parmigiano and the pepper have a chance to blend with the whole dish.

This dish should have the delicate, fragrant taste of saffron. Since the spice is not overwhelmed by other flavors, it will dominate the taste of this dish, which is light and very refined in spite of its simplicity. As with most Italian dishes, it’s the quality of the ingredients that matters most. If you use Farro grain pasta, the dish will almost have a meaty texture to it, making it a pleasure to sink one’s teeth into it. My favorite accompaniment to it is some hearty red wine, although white will do just fine.




6 comments on “Saffron Pasta: the Light & Delicious Option

  1. Chris says:

    Hmm, This one sounds really good. We have a “World Market” here, so its not entirely impossible to find decent saffron here, for a couple dollars a pinch. We’ll definitely have to give this one a try.

    Also – See additional comments on the Traditional Tomato Sauce.

  2. barbaresco says:


    If you can’t find it there, go on iGourmet or even I think that, the food lovers that you are, you can’t afford to be without that most delicious of spices. 😉

    I’ll post a couple additional saffron recipes–it’s one of our favorite flavors in the Brianza region of Northern Italy.

  3. Chris says:

    I do love saffron – and having it around is nice as its such a nice thing in Indian cooking as well.

    We would absolutely welcome additional regional Italian stuff.

    I think a *great* post, if you’re up for it, would be to explain in a more specific manner, some of the various food pairings for a typical meal – eg, what common first courses would actually be served with what common second courses, and so on. I can sit and look at the Silver Spoon, and see the hundreds of dishes that are first and second courses, but it gives no real guidance as to how to construct a meal. The sample menus are a joke, as most of them are the *very* high end haute cuisine style of things that bear little resemblance to most of the book. These sample menus also are definitely designed around a high end dinner party with hired servers sort of thing, where one is running staggered courses and so on – which I would think could change how one views the appropriateness of various dishes with others…

    And….I ramble…

  4. barbaresco says:

    Will do–that’s a great idea.


  5. Anna says:

    Chris-Penzeys’sells a really good saffron on their website, but of all places, I got 1 gram saffron at Kroger’s ethnic section last year for around 3 bucks…that was amazing. And it is a very good quality Spanish coupe too, so I am happy… I keep finding over and over again that the ethnic sections of grocery stores have MUCH better prices and quality of things than the regular American fare, sorry to say…We have a large Indian/Pakistani, Chinese, Viatnamese and of couse Mexican population in the part of Irving we live in, so the local Kroger is well equipped to handle the competition from the ethnic stores that are about 5 minutes from it.

  6. Chris says:


    our ethnic sections of supermarkets aren’t so good here. Generally, the ethnic markets are much better, and with better prices overall, especially on spices and so on.

    I don’t know if you’ve been to a “World Market” yet or not, but there are several all over the metroplex, including grapvine, denton, the Galleria North, etc… To me, it’s a lot like Pier One, with the addition of a very useful shelf-stable foods market. The spices are much less expensive than the supermarket, and they seem to have a pretty good turnover, so things seem to be fresh. I’d much rather buy from Dean and Deluca (which we drive by on the way to fencing), but for now, the prices are more attractive at World Market. (they also have the Pride of Szeged mild and hot paprika for a considerably lower price than I’ve seen anywhere else.

    Unfortunately, Katie and I haven’t been to Penzey’s yet, though now that I’ve checked the store locator, there is one in Overland Park, which is a ‘burb of KC, and is again, pretty much on the way for us, to stop by on the way to fencing. It’s now on the list of things to do.

    I think World Market had two different types of saffron, one of which was $2.99/gram, and the other, I think, was $3.99/gram.

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