by Charlene Burgi
Spring bulb sales are beginning to find their way into garden catalogs, garden websites, and gardening blogs, tempting us with the "new-improved-gotta-have" bulbs for spring color.
One such ad that came in via email caught my eye. The catch line read, "Fall crocus (Crocus sativus
)—harvest your own saffron." Well folks, that last sentence had me hooked. Since all of my grandparents came from the northern part of Italy, risotto was a side dish frequently served at the dining room table. Oh, it wasn't the risotto found in local restaurants smothered with exotic cheeses or added cream. Perhaps on occasion sautéed mushrooms would find their way into the pot, but risotto always included saffron and homemade chicken broth.
Imagine the delight to find the bulbs for this by-product for a mere $15.00 for 15 bulbs. The best part is the corms were on sale for 50% off. The ad also touted that once the corms were planted, you could harvest the saffron within four to five weeks. At that price, I splurged and ordered two packages since the tiny bottle of saffron in the kitchen was running dangerously low.
Saffron is the highest priced spice on the market; in fact, the last I checked, it was over $500 an ounce. The savings of growing my own saffron was going to be colossal! But then I started reading about why the spice is so expensive: The high cost is due to the labor involved in extracting by hand three tiny filaments within the flower that contain the yellow gold. The question is how many filaments are needed in a recipe?
Thinking this is a cash cow gone sideways, my focus turned to the non-monetary benefits of planting fall crocus. First, it is a corm or type of bulb, which means it needs little water. Second, it loves the sun. Third, the corms will multiply. Fourth, it bears flowers when most everything else in the garden is worn and tired from the dog days of summer.
If you need a bright spot in the garden in the next month that may or may not add to your culinary bent, consider planting some fall crocus.
Risotto alla Milanese
Homemade chicken broth
1 cup Sauterne white wine
1 finely chopped onion
4 tablespoons dried or fresh mushrooms (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/16 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
In a saucepan, bring chicken broth to a simmer. Soak dried mushrooms in broth to hydrate. Once hydrated, cut into small bite-size pieces and return to broth.
In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, sauté chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, stirring until softened. Add rice and stir to coat.
Add wine to the rice and cook, stir constantly until the wine is absorbed. Begin adding the chicken broth to the rice one ladleful at a time until that broth is absorbed before adding another ladleful. Continue cooking over a medium low heat until the rice is soft and creamy looking.
Stir in 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, saffron, remaining butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat until heated thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Turn risotto onto a platter and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and serve.