Risotto alla Milanese is a creamy saffron risotto that’s perhaps Milan’s most famous dish. Infused with the earthy flavor and golden tones of saffron, risotto Milanese comes together easily and never fails to impress.
Simply put, Risotto Milanese is nothing more than classic Italian risotto spiked with saffron. But adding that one wonder spice makes all the difference.
The same crimson threads that give paella and joojeh kabob their signature golden hue and flavor transform risotto Milanese into the color of a Mediterranean sunset. Just a pinch adds an unmistakable, alluring element—faintly sweet and floral, but also slightly pungent and smoky.
This is a fairly traditional Italian saffron risotto alla Milanese recipe that’s both light and comforting, perfect for every season. While some recipes call for a small amount of beef marrow, I generally leave it out as it is very fatty and I prefer to let saffron take center stage.
Serve this saffron risotto alongside roast meat in keeping with the traditional pairing of risotto alla Milanese with osso bucco (Italy’s famous braised veal shanks, not unlike our braised lamb shanks). Or, let the golden rice stand on its own as a main course with a simple salad on the side.
Table of Contents
- Ingredients for Risotto Milanese (Saffron Risotto)
- How to Make Risotto Milanese
- What Goes with Saffron Risotto? Sides & Serving Suggestions
- You'll Also Like: More Risotto Recipes
- Save When You Bundle Our Best-Selling Olive Oil Collection!
- Risotto alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto) Recipe
Ingredients for Risotto Milanese (Saffron Risotto)
Starchy risotto rice, good broth, and fragrant saffron are the key players in Risotto alla Milanese. Although saffron is expensive (said to be the most expensive spic on earth), you need only a pinch or two for this recipe. And the glorious result is worth the occasional splurge. Be sure to read our essential guide to saffron to familiarize yourself with this precious spice and its many uses in cooking and baking.
- Chicken or beef broth: I make homemade broth regularly and keep it in tightly lidded containers in the freezer. For chicken broth, I use the method in my Italian Wedding Soup recipe. To bolster the flavor, I sometimes add one or two beef marrow bones.
- Saffron: A red-gold spice made from the dried stigmas of the Crocus Sativus flower. I always buy threads from Abruzzo, my family’s region in Italy, as ground saffron tends to be unreliable.
- Yellow onion: One small yellow onion, or about ¾ cup of finely diced onion, gives the risotto an aromatic foundation.
- Extra-virgin olive oil and butter: Butter is typically used in risotto, but I prefer to sauté the onion in Italian extra-virgin olive oil for both health and flavor. I stir in a small amount of butter at the end of cooking to give the risotto a luxurious sheen.
- Risotto rice: Use either Carnaroli or Arborio rice, which are starchy, short-grain Italian rice varieties. Carnaroli has the largest, starchiest grains, but Arborio is more readily available. If you want to go with Carnaroli, you’ll likely find it at an Italian grocery. It’s also available online.
- White wine: This is optional, especially if you’re using good homemade broth. But I find that a fruity white, such as a medium-bodied Italian chardonnay, brings welcome acidity and depth to risotto.
- Grana Padano or Parmigiano (parmesan) cheese: For the ultimate umami touch, don’t forget the cheese. Either works well in this dish, but Grana Padano is slightly less expensive, and it’s from Lombardy, the region that includes Milan.
How to Make Risotto Milanese
Making elegant risotto alla Milanese is no different from making classic risotto. Some cooks are put off by the thought of the stirring required to make creamy risotto, but I find the process meditative and enjoyable. In the end, it’s about perspective and attitude!
Get Ready: Heat the Broth, Bloom the Saffron, and Ready the Onion
- Heat the broth. You’ll need 5 ½ to 6 cups for this recipe. Pour 6 cups into a medium pot and set it over medium heat. Bring it to a bare simmer, then lower the heat and cover the pot to keep it warm.
- Steep the saffron. Place your saffron threads in a small heat-proof bowl and pour hot broth over them—about ¼ cup. Let the threads steep for at least 20 minutes, stirring them a couple of times to help them dissolve. The threads may not dissolve completely, which is fine. In fact, flecks of red from undissolved threads make the risotto all the more beautiful.
- Chop the onion. While the saffron steeps, finely dice 1 small onion.
Stir, Stir, Stir!
- Soften the onion and “toast” the rice. Measure 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil into a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Cook on medium-low until the onion is soft and pale gold, about 8 minutes.
- Toast the rice. Stir in 1 ½ cups of rice, and “toast” it, coating it well with oil and stirring for 3 to 5 minutes, until it is pearly and translucent, and you start to hear it crackle. If the pot seems dry, add another tablespoon of olive oil. Season with ½ teaspoon salt—unless your broth is already salted.
- Add the wine and broth. Pour in ½ cup wine and let it bubble away for a minute. Stir until all the wine is absorbed. Ladle in ¾ to 1 cup of hot broth, stirring with a sturdy hand and a circular motion. Keep stirring until the broth is completely absorbed. Continue to add broth by the ladleful, stirring regularly and allowing the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more.
- Stir in the dissolved saffron. After about 15 minutes, pour this liquid into the pot with the rice, stirring vigorously to make sure it is fully incorporated. Watching the transformation of color as the risotto turns a rich golden color is one of best parts about making risotto alla Milanese!
- Cook until al dente. Continue to cook the risotto, adding broth as needed, until it creamy and al dente. Taste a small spoonful; the grains should be tender with just a tiny bit of firmness at the center, but no chalkiness. If the rice is chalky, add another ladleful of broth and stir until the rice is creamy and al dente. Add a final splash of broth to give the risotto its signature “wavy” or “flowing” consistency; it should be slightly runny but still spoonable.
Finish & Serve
- Finish and serve. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in a handful—about ½ cup—of Grana Padano or Parmigiano cheese and 1 tablespoon cold butter. Stir vigorously until the cheese and butter are fully incorporated. Spoon the risotto into bowls and sprinkle a little more cheese on top. Serve while still hot and creamy.
What Goes with Saffron Risotto? Sides & Serving Suggestions
Osso buco alla Milanese—braised veal shanks in a rich brown sauce—is the traditional partner for risotto alla Milanese. But saffron is also a famously delicious pairing to fish. Take inspiration from Spanish paella, a mix of saffron rice and shellfish, and top with scallops. Or serve with any white flaky fish, like baked cod, on the side.
Fish and Seafood
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Risotto alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto)
- 6 cups low sodium chicken or beef broth
- 1 generous pinch saffron threads (about ½ teaspoon)
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion finely diced (½ to ¾ cup)
- 1 ½ cups Carnaroli or Abrorio rice
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- ½ cup medium-bodied white wine, such as Italian Chardonnay
- ½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter (optional)
- Heat the broth: Pour the broth into a medium saucepan and warm it over medium heat until it is almost at a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan to keep the broth warm.
- Steep the saffron threads: Place the saffron in a small bowl and pour about ½ cup hot broth over them. Let sit for at least 20 minutes, stirring a few times to dissolve.
- Meanwhile, sauté the onion: Measure the olive oil into a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed sauté pan. And add the onion and set on medium-low. Cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and pale gold, about 8 minutes.
- Toast the rice: Stir in the rice, coating it well with oil. Continue stirring until it is pearly and translucent and you start to hear it crackle, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with ½ teaspoon salt (unless your broth is already salted).
- Add the wine and broth: Pour in the wine and let it bubble briefly, stirring until it is absorbed. Add a ladleful (¾ cup) of hot broth and keep stirring until it is completely absorbed. Then add another ladleful, stirring regularly and allowing the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more.
- Stir in the dissolved saffron and more broth: After about 15 minutes, pour the dissolved saffron into the pot with the rice and stir until fully incorporated and all the rice has turned golden.
- Cook until tender. Continue adding broth as needed and stirring until the risotto is creamy and al dente. Add a final splash of broth to give the risotto its signature “wavy” or “flowing” consistency; it should be slightly runny but still spoonable.
- Finish and serve. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the cheese and butter and stir vigorously until they're fully incorporated. Spoon the risotto into bowls and sprinkle a little more cheese on top. Serve while still hot and creamy.
- See our “What is Saffron?" essential guide for tips on buying and cooking with saffron.
- To test for doneness, taste a small spoonful of rice–the grains should be tender with just a tiny bit of firmness at the center but no chalkiness.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams, and spices.