Saffron Risotto alla Milanese

Authentic saffron risotto: the Italian recipe to traditional risotto alla milanese with step by step instructions. This creamy risotto with saffron and lots of parmesan is a beloved Italian main course. But you can also serve smaller portions as side dish, it pairs exceptionally well with beef.

Saffron risotto is probably one of the most famous risotto recipes. The wonderful marriage between the flavours of saffron and parmesan makes this dish elegant and delectable, a true pearl from the northern Italian cuisine.

A portion of saffron risotto served in a blue bowl.

If you want to add an authentic Italian risotto recipe to your repertoire, risotto alla milanese is an easy one to make. As long as you have all the ingredients ready, it will take less than one hour from start to finish.

Risotto alla milanese facts

Did you know that authentic saffron risotto is not vegetarian? The original recipe features beef bone marrow among its ingredients, and the risotto is cooked with beef broth. Since bone marrow is not easy to come by, I do not feature it in my recipe. But everything else follows the traditional recipe from Milan.

Rice pilaf with saffron had been known in Italy since the Middle Ages as a Middle Eastern recipe, but risotto alla milanese as we know it today had its official “birth” on September 8, 1574 when it featured on a wedding menu. Powdered saffron was used as a colouring pigment by glass-makers working the stained glass windows of the Milan Cathedral. When the daughter of the team’s master got married, they added saffron to the rice cooked in stock to colour it yellow. It was the first documented occurrence of saffron risotto.

Yellow risotto in a Dutch oven pot.

You may be familiar with wine featuring as ingredient in risotto recipes, but it’s not true for all of them. According to the official saffron risotto recipe registered in Milan to protect its origin, wine does not list among the ingredients to risotto alla milanese.

Ingredients and ingredient notes

For detailed quantities, please refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post. There you can also click to convert quantities from metric to US customary.

The ingredients needed for the recipe.

  • Risotto rice like Carnaroli or Arborio is fundamental. These types of short-grain rice contain the right amount of starch to make the risotto naturally creamy.
  • Butter! This is a recipe from northern Italy, where the cooking fat has historically been butter, and not olive oil.
  • Grana Padano is the parmesan cheese produced in the Lombardy region where Milan is, thus accounting for the most local choice of cheese. Parmigiano Reggiano is a great alternative, like any other kind of parmesan cheese as long as it’s from Italy.
  • Beef broth is the traditional liquid used to cook saffron risotto. It gives the final dish a deeper flavour than vegetable stock. Beef marrow lists in the original recipe, too, but I don’t have access to it so I normally do not include it in mine.
  • You can use saffron threads of powdered saffron like I did.

A portion of saffron risotto served with a glass of white wine.

How to make saffron risotto step by step

  • Set a pan on medium heat and melt half of the butter. Mince the onion and add it to the butter. Sauté for about 5 minutes, extracting the flavour of the onion into the cooking fat. Reduce the heat if the onion starts to fry/burn. When the onion is soft and the butter fragrant, add the rice and toast 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add enough broth to just cover the rice, stir and let simmer until absorbed. Repeat and continue working in batches until all the broth had been added and has absorbed into the rice. Stir from time to time to make sure that the rice is not sticking to the bottom of the pan, lower the heat if this happens. You want to slowly evaporate the broth, so the use of medium-low heat is key.
  • After the last addition of broth has been added and has almost completely been absorbed by the rice, remove from the heat. Stir in the saffron.
  • After stirring in the saffron, add the rest of the butter and the grated cheese and stir to evenly distribute, helping both the cheese and butter to melt. This procedure will nail the perfect creamy texture.
  • You may choose to reserve some of the cheese for the guests to sprinkle on top of their servings, or add it all in one go. Serve immediately.

Saffron risotto recipe tips

  • Always keep a medium-low heat and never feel tempted to increase it to speed up the process. Each addition of stock needs to slowly get absorbed into the rice, in order to cook through each grain. Too high a heat will make the stock evaporate too quickly, not giving the rice enough time to properly absorb the liquid.
  • The stock needs to be added hot. Bring it to a boil and keep it on low heat on another burner as you cook the risotto, to ensure every addition is the same temperature.
  • If using powdered saffron you can just stir it in as it is (like in the picture above). However, if you are using saffron threads, you will need to soak them in broth prior to adding them. Reserve a couple of tbsp stock in a small bowl and soak the saffron threads as the risotto is simmering. Add the threads and stock mixture together.
  • If possible, use high quality beef stock (best if homemade!) and avoid using a stock cube. This will compensate for the lack of bone marrow as per the original recipe. If you have access to bone marrow, you will need about 50g and it will have to go in the pan first together with the butter.
  • You may not need to add salt, as you can see it’s not listed among the ingredients. A flavourful stock and the generous amount of grana padano should be enough to flavour this dish. However, feel free to stir in a sprinkle of salt at the very end, if the stock and cheese alone did not deliver enough saltiness to the final product.

Rsotto alla milanese seen from above.

More risotto recipes?

If you love risotto and you need more in your life, here’s some more:

And for more saffron goodness you may want to try:

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment below. If you’re planning to make this risotto at a later time you can pin it to Pinterest. Please subscribe to my newsletter and follow me on Pinterest. Stay safe!

Saffron risotto in a Dutch oven pot.
5 from 10 votes
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Risotto alla Milanese

Traditional saffron risotto from northern Italy. A creamy rice dish made with saffron, butter, beef broth and a generous amount of grana padano.

Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Keyword milan risotto, risotto alla milanese, saffron risotto
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 566 kcal
Author Eva | Electric Blue Food

Ingredients

  • 320 g risotto rice Carnaroli or Arborio
  • 1 shallot or small yellow onion
  • 100 g butter
  • 0,5 g saffron 1 packet
  • 1 L beef broth
  • 80 g Grana Padano or other Italian parmesan, grated

Instructions

  1. Bring the stock to a boil then lower the heat and keep it on low heat throughout the recipe. If using saffron threads, reserve 2 tbsp stock in a small bowl and soak the saffron threads (skip if using powdered).

  2. Set a large pan on medium heat and melt half of the butter. Mince the onion and add it to the butter. Sauté for 5 minutes, until soft, reducing the heat if the onion brown too quickly. Add the rice and toast 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

  3. Add enough broth to just cover the rice, stir and simmer until absorbed. Repeat and continue working in batches until all the broth has been added and has absorbed into the rice. Keep on medium-low heat and stir from time to time just to make sure that the rice is not sticking to the bottom of the pan.

  4. After the last addition of broth has been added and has almost completely been absorbed by the rice (the texture is still a bit soupy), remove from the heat. Stir in the saffron, then stir in the rest of the butter and the grated cheese. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

  • Never feel tempted to increase the heat to speed up the cooking process. Each addition of stock needs to slowly get absorbed into the rice, in order to cook through each grain. Too high a heat will make the stock evaporate too quickly, not giving the rice enough time to properly absorb the stock. Always keep you risotto simmering on medium-low heat.
  • The original Milan recipe calls for bone marrow among the ingredients. To compensate for the lack of bone marrow in this recipe I recommend the use of high quality beef stock, possibly home-made. If you have access to bone marrow, you will need about 50g and it will have to go in the pan first together with the butter.
  • A flavourful stock and the generous amount of cheese that goes into this risotto should mean that no salt needs to be added. Only stir in some at the very end, if the other ingredients did not deliver enough saltiness to your taste.

Please notice that the nutritional information provided is made by an online calculator and is meant to be used as a guideline only. The quantities in this recipe yield 4 portions if serving risotto along with other dishes. If only serving risotto as main, it will yield 3 portions.

Nutrition Facts
Risotto alla Milanese
Amount Per Serving
Calories 566 Calories from Fat 234
% Daily Value*
Fat 26g40%
Saturated Fat 17g106%
Trans Fat 1g
Cholesterol 67mg22%
Sodium 1431mg62%
Potassium 243mg7%
Carbohydrates 65g22%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 16g32%
Vitamin A 782IU16%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 263mg26%
Iron 4mg22%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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22 Comments

  1. David Scott Allen September 16, 2021 at 06:41

    On occasion I have made this with marrow — it is so good and rich, but very much a special occasion dish. Your version is much more like my every day version — and it’s fantastic!

    Reply
    1. Eva September 16, 2021 at 09:11

      I have only tasted it with bone marrow at restaurants. Would love to try it paired with ossobuco someday. Thank you for your kind comment, this recipe is indeed a more “budget” version 🙂

      Reply
  2. Allyssa September 29, 2021 at 12:44

    5 stars
    This is really tasty and super easy to make! Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe! Will surely have this again! Highly recommended!

    Reply
    1. Eva October 1, 2021 at 20:39

      Awesome! Thank you Allyssa!

      Reply
  3. shelby September 29, 2021 at 15:03

    5 stars
    This was my first time making risotto and it turned out so creamy and delicious. I really love the touch that saffron gave this recipe. We will be enjoying this many times over!

    Reply
    1. Eva October 1, 2021 at 20:40

      Hi Shelby! Great to hear you were happy with your first risotto! Thank you for choosing my recipe!

      Reply
  4. Liz September 30, 2021 at 12:17

    5 stars
    I read “lots of parmesan” and I was sold!

    Reply
    1. Eva October 1, 2021 at 20:41

      Hi Liz! Yep, welcome to the club! 😀

      Reply
  5. Colleen September 30, 2021 at 17:20

    5 stars
    We love risotto, and this recipe is delicious and really simple to make. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Eva October 1, 2021 at 20:41

      Thank you Colleen!

      Reply
  6. Shobelyn Dayrit October 2, 2021 at 16:48

    5 stars
    So simple to make and really filling. Love this recipe.

    Reply
    1. Eva October 7, 2021 at 10:55

      Thank you Shobelyn!

      Reply
  7. Megan Ellam October 2, 2021 at 23:40

    5 stars
    I am a huge fan of risotto. I love the use (and color) of the saffron. It is one of my favorite ways to make risotto.

    Reply
    1. Eva October 7, 2021 at 10:55

      Thanks Megan. We’re two, I also deeply love saffron in risotto.

      Reply
  8. Katie Crenshaw October 3, 2021 at 18:40

    5 stars
    I made this risotto as a side dish to my chicken and it was excellent. It is so flavorful and tasty.

    Reply
    1. Eva October 7, 2021 at 10:55

      Hi Katie! Chicken is a really good choice for this!

      Reply
  9. Gwynn Galvin October 4, 2021 at 03:44

    5 stars
    I love a creamy risotto and adding saffron makes it that much more delicious. Can’t wait to make this recipe!

    Reply
    1. Eva October 7, 2021 at 10:54

      Hi Gwynn! Hope you’ll like it!

      Reply
  10. Marie October 4, 2021 at 03:48

    5 stars
    The color of that risotto is breathtaking and I can smell the irresistible saffron aroma from here! This is a timeless classic that I’ve made time and time again, but I’d never made it with beef stock before. It added a delicious depth of flavor to the dish. I will do this again!

    Reply
    1. Eva October 7, 2021 at 10:54

      Hi Marie! Great to hear you liked it with beef stock. I really think it does add flavour depth!

      Reply
  11. Jamie October 4, 2021 at 07:04

    5 stars
    I love that beautiful color from the saffron and how creamy it is! The parmesan gives this such a delicious, savory flavor. So good!

    Reply
    1. Eva October 7, 2021 at 10:53

      Thank you Jamie!

      Reply

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