Saffron which is called Zafferano in Italian was originally native to Southern Asia but today grows all over the world, including in Italy. The spice comes from the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). Saffron is used in many different dishes in Italy including in the famed Risotto alla Milanese.
Oddly enough Saffron was added to that recipe as far back as the 1500s. The saffron is added midway through cooking that classic Milanese dish. Saffron brings a rich golden color to the dish.
Two types of Saffron are recognized as being worthy of the DOP or designated original product (denominazione d’origine protetta) category in Italy, Zafferano dell’Aquila DOP and Zafferano di San Gimignano DOP. The former comes from toasting the stems of the Crocus Sativus plant and is sold either as think sticks of as a powder. This Saffron is very red in color. The latter, Zafferano di San Gimignano DOP, is also a product of toasting the flower stems and is also red in color or sometimes more “orange.”
Saffron should be kept in a dry place with little to no humidity and not too much light. Saffron is used in first course, main dishes, with vegetables and even in desserts such as gelato. Saffron has always been quite expensive and is considered a delicacy in many cultures. Only a small drop of saffron needs to be used to enhance the aromas and flavors of food.