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.