saffron risotto - risotto alla milanese
Written by Vahid Epagloo, Food Consultant Updated:

Italians are very likely to have been familiar with the most precious spice in the world, saffron, since Roman times. Today, to renew their love for cooking with exotic taste and aroma of saffron threads, Italians prepare different types of dishes with this spice. On the top of them, Italian risotto is there. In particular, If you go to beautiful Milan, there is a famous version of the dish with saffron that you should not leave without eating this city, as the city is characterized by this food for many visitors.

Is risotto Milanese is the saffron risotto?

Perhaps not everyone knows that the recipe for Risotto Milanese or Milanese Risotto ( Risotto alla Milanese to be precise as it is called in Italian) is not the same as saffron risotto: Risotto Milanese, in fact, is a richer version of Italian classic risotto which involves the addition of marrow to the sauté in which the rice is toasted. We can say it is the perfect risotto.

Extremely yellow, delicate, and unsurpassed, it tells of the elegance of the Lombard capital. Rather easy to prepare, it was also one of the typical dishes of the workers of the past, it was prepared in advance and even when heated it did not lose its taste. Don’t forget the saffron: what would risotto be without it?

Is Risotto Milanese a simple combination…

Risotto Milanese is not a simple combination of rice, saffron, and butter. What makes it unique is the beef marrow which gives the dish a truly special flavor and consistency.

Over the years the recipe has undergone several changes, for example, the removal of the marrow and the addition of sausage or chopped parsley and garlic, but some prefer to remain faithful to tradition!

How did saffron and rice come together?

Rice and saffron, the two main ingredients of Risotto Milanese have come a long way to get to us! The first, imported into Europe by the Saracens, was initially cultivated in Southern Italy and arrived in the Po Valley thanks to contacts between the Aragonese and Sforza.

Saffron, on the other hand, dates back to a much more distant era, already known to the Romans and Egyptians for its multiple properties. Did you know that it was also used as a cosmetic pigment as well as an aromatic spice? His journey first stopped in Spain and then in Italy, where he landed on the tables of elegant Milanese banquets, becoming a status symbol. But how did rice and saffron meet?

A joke in a wedding

Many dishes are created by mistake and, sometimes, even as a joke. On 8 September 1574, the wedding of the daughter of Valerio di Fiandra, a Belgian master glassmaker at the time working on the construction of the Milan cathedral, was celebrated.

Legend has it that during the banquet his companions colored, perhaps as a joke, a dish of rice (at the time served only with butter) with saffron, which was used on the windows to obtain particular chromatic effects.

From the palette to the table, the dish immediately won over all the guests for its goodness and its intense color similar to gold.

Arabs were pioneer

Some believe the combination of rice and saffron was already well known to Arabs and Jews, and in particular to medieval kosher cuisine; in fact, it was some Jewish merchants who brought this recipe to Northern Italy from Sicily on their travels.

Sicily has also inspired another version whose protagonist is a Sicilian cook who moved to Milan; revisiting the original arancini recipe, she obtained a completely new dish that was as good as it was beautiful.

Finally, the recipe for Risotto alla Milanese appears in 19th-century cookery manuals as “pan-fried yellow rice”. Only later was it called “yellow Milanese risotto”.

The recipe we know today, is prepared with the most typical ingredients in the traditional Lombard cuisine . Butter, beef marrow, and onion, to which broth is gradually added, diluted with saffron, as per tradition.

How to cook Risotto alla Milanese

Now let’s have a look how to cook a dish, if you took! No need to say this is just one of different options of combining saffron and rice.


320 g of Carnaroli rice

60 g of grated cheese (Grana Lodigiano)

60 g of unsalted butter

20 g of veal marrow

1 liter and half of beef broth/or 5 and 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 small onion

1  gr of saffron threads

Preparation time

10 min

Cooking time

25 min

Soaking time




Cooking steps

1-To make Milanese risotto, first, prepare the meat broth or chicken stock. Set aside a cup of warm broth and infuse the saffron threads for at least an hour. In this way, the pistils will release color, an intense yellow. Meanwhile, take the discs with the marrow and, delicately helping yourself with a knife, extract the marrow and cut it into coarse pieces.

2-In a large saucepan, melt 30 grams of butter with the marrow, add the finely chopped onion, and, over a very low heat, make it transparent.

3-Add the rice, and mix it so that, absorbing the seasoning, it becomes shiny. Then bring it halfway through cooking, pouring in a ladle of hot broth when the previous one has been absorbed. At this point, add the dissolved saffron with one or two tablespoons of warm broth and finish cooking by adding one ladle of broth at a time.

4-Once the rice has cooked (it will take 15 to 18 minutes), remove it from the heat stir in the risotto with the remaining butter and flavor it with the grated cheese.

5-Cover to let it settle and after a couple of minutes transfer it to the hot serving plate. Serve the Milanese risotto immediately.

Recipe variations

Do you want to prepare this recipe differently? try melting the marrow together with the initial sauté, before toasting the rice.

Chefs tend to prefer to cook it separately – as was done in this way – but place it whole on top of the risotto as a garnish.

We prefer to stir in part of it together with the risotto, to better blend all the flavors!

As an alternative to Carnaroli rice, you can use Vialone Nano.


Milanese risotto should be eaten immediately, as soon as it is cooked, but if you want to preserve it, you can keep it in the refrigerator for a day and then sauté it in a pan or make a small Arancini.


The recipe for saffron risotto alla Milanese features traditional ingredients such as butter, and beef marrow. cooking saffron risotto is a delightful culinary experience that combines the richness of rice with the vibrant color and flavor of saffron. Whether it was discovered by chance during a banquet or brought to Northern Italy by Jewish merchants, this dish has become a beloved classic in Italian cuisine.

With the best quality of Iranian saffron provided by the Ghaaneh brand, achieve an eastern-western combination (as it is done in the rich Italian culture) and increase the quality of this food to its ultimate limit.


I don’t have a saffron threads, can I use a sachet?

Yes, dissolve the saffron sachet in the broth, as directed in the recipe.

Is the Carnaroli rice the only option?

Of course not, you can repalece it with Vialone Nano.

I don’t have Grana Lodigiano, what can I use instead?

You can use Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano.

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