This creamy saffron pasta is a bowl of technicolor decadence, straight out of a fine dining restaurant.
Rich and creamy with the wonderful floral, musky, earthy, semi-sweet taste of saffron.
Undeniably delicious and almost impossible to describe saffron is a taste like no other and here, paired with cream and wine it makes the perfect sauce for flat pappardelle pasta noddles.
Saffron is an expensive spice so this isn’t an everyday dish. But for a special occasion, this creamy saffron pasta is the perfect way to use it. How much you add it really up to your taste and budget. We like to add a generous first finger and thumb pad sized pinch, this really infuses the cream with the wonderful perfumed flavor of saffron.
What is Saffron?
Saffron comes from the purple saffron crocus. It only blooms for about 3 weeks a year and the flowers cannot be harvested by machine! They have to be harvested by hand and during the mid-morning before the flower opens. Each flower produces just 3 stigmas/threads of saffron and to make just 1 oz of saffron approximately 1,000 flowers have to be hand-picked.
This is what makes saffron so expensive! And what makes this creamy saffron pasta so perfect for a date night dinner or special occasion.
What does Saffron taste like?
Saffron has an almost indescribable taste, it is really like nothing else. It is slightly sweet, yet earthy and has a rich almost honey like smell.
How do I store saffron?
Saffron is expensive, so storing it correctly is important.
Short term the best place to store saffron is in a cool, dark, dry place, but be sure to use it within 3 months as it starts to lose its wonderful perfume. If you are lucky enough to have a larger quantity then you can put it in the freezer for 9 months to a year.
What can I substitute for Saffron?
Saffron doesn’t really have a true substitute. However if you combine 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric with 1/2 of teaspoon paprika and a pinch of sugar, you will get a powder that tastes similar to saffron.
I wouldn’t suggest substituting the saffron in this recipe though. This dish is Creamy Saffron Pasta, without the saffron you are missing out of the essence of the dish. Sorry.
How to buy Saffron
Make sure you buy saffron stems rather than saffron powder. Saffron powder will go musty quicker and also it can sometimes be mixed with other lesser spices by unscrupulous producers.
Where to buy Saffron
Ideally, you want to buy Persian saffron as this is said to be the best quality.
If you have a Persian or Middle Eastern Grocery store near you then check them out, you will get a great quality product at a reasonable price!
However, you can find saffron in the herb and spices aisle of the grocery store. On my last trip, I found it in Safeway, Walmart and Trader Joes. Look for a package that has a high proportion of red threads and very few yellow threads.
Where to buy saffron in Australia?
You can buy saffron in the herb and spice section of both Woolworths and Coles. Masterfoods have it in a jar and you can also buy a small plastic box. Look for one that has the longest date on, this will be the freshest, and then use within 3 months or 9-12 months if you keep it in the freezer.
Again make sure to look for a high proportion of red threads and very few yellow threads.
How to make a creamy saffron sauce.
The key to using saffron is to allow the saffron to bloom in hot/warm liquid, before adding it to a dish.
For this recipe, the saffron is added to a mixture of wine and cream. We like to use some whole threads in the mixture as it flecks the finished pasta dish with wonderful threads of red, However, some of the saffron is ground together with the salt to allow the color and flavor to be released more easily.
How much saffron to use?
Saffron is expensive so you don’t want to waste it. We like to add a generous first finger and thumb pad sized pinch, this gives a rich perfumed flavor to the dish. However, even a smaller amount will add flavor and color to your creamy saffron pasta.
What pasta to use for creamy saffron sauce?
We used pappardelle here and it is the perfect pasta for this creamy saffron sauce. The thick ribbons allow the sauce to really cling. Most larger grocery stores will stock pappardelle, but if you can’t find it then a thick cut tagliatelle or fettuccine will work.
Avoid tubular shapes like penne or rigatoni, if you want a small shape then something flat like a farfalle or a spiral Ricciolini.
What to serve with Saffron Pasta
Side: This saffron pasta is delicate yet filling, so try serving this with some roasted broccoli, steamed asparagus or skillet green beans. Or if you want to add a protein to this dish serve this pasta with a pan-fried cod loin. The sauce also works amazingly with sweet seared scallops. (check out this post for how to cook perfect scallops)
Wine: To complement the rich creamy saffron sauce we suggest something bright and fresh. If you can find an Italian Friulano or Vermentino then they would be our first choice. If not then a Sémillon will be a great substitute. Although white would be our first choice for the red lovers a Valpolicella Classico wouldn’t be a bad choice.
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Elegant and Easy Creamy Saffron Pasta Recipe
- 15 oz pappardelle – see note 1
- 1 shallot
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
- generous pinch of saffron – see note 2
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
- salt and black pepper
- Bring a large pan of water to a boil, salt it generously and add the pappardelle.
- Meanwhile, peel and chop the shallot.
- Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat.
- Add the shallot and cook for 2 minutes until they start to soften. about 2 minutes.
- Turn the heat up and add the wine, let it bubble and evaporate until it has reduced by at least half.
- Turn the heat down to medium then add the cream.
- Use a pestle and mortar to grind some of the saffron together with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add this to the cream mixture along with the remaining threads. (see note 3)
- Allow the sauce to simmer until slightly thickened and the saffron color has permeated the cream.
- Remove 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and transfer it to the skillet with the sauce.
- Add the 1/4 cup of the cooking water and the chopped parsley and toss to coat.
- Taste the sauce and season with more salt and black pepper as required.
- Serve immediately.
- The thick Pappardelle ribbons allow the sauce to really cling, but if you can’t find pappardelle then a thick cut tagliatelle or fettuccine will work. Avoid tubular shapes like penne or rigatoni, if you want a small shape then something flat like a farfalle or a spiral Ricciolini.
- We know saffron is expensive but it is the main flavor to this sauce, there is really no substituting it here, so be generous and enjoy your special dinner.
- Grinding the saffron helps to release the flavor and color. But keeping some of the threads whole gives a wonderful look to the finished dish, as you get flecks of saffron threads on the pasta.