A menu based on saffron, the red gold of Sicily

Saffron is also known as the red gold of Sicily. A fragrant spice with many benefits, saffron is very expensive because, among other things, of the lengthy process of cultivation and processing.

Appreciated by many, this spice enriches countless recipes, giving them a pleasing yellow color, as well as a unique aroma and taste.

The red gold of Sicily: Enna’s saffron

Saffron in Sicily is mainly cultivated in the Enna area. These are productions in which quality exceeds quantity: this is also the reason why its price is often rather high. The red gold is obtained from the stigmas of the violet flower of Crocus Sativus, and the harvesting usually begins in autumn.

Saffron has countless beneficial properties. Many studies identify it as a natural antidepressant, due to its folate component. Moreover, it is a potent ally of the heart, it also has antioxidant and antitumor features. Red gold helps prevent skin aging, as well as aiding digestion.

A powerful ally for health that enriches and flavors numerous dishes: here are some recipes with saffron from first courses to desserts!

Saffron-based first courses

Let’s start with some saffron based first courses to serve your guests. First up is a popular and easy-to-make pasta dish: penne with saffron, shrimp and zucchini.

First, cut some zucchini into round slices, as thick as you like. In a frying pan, brown some spring onion with extra virgin olive oil. Once the spring onion is golden brown, add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper and let it cook. Boil some salted water for the pasta. Fill a small glass with the hot water and dilute the saffron. Cook the pasta and shrimp with the zucchini; when everything is cooked, add the diluted saffron. Drain the pasta al dente: this way, you can later re-cook it with the sauce. Serve on a plate. If you don’t like shrimps, you can substitute them with bacon or guanciale.

Another first course with saffron is pasta with sardines. This is a typical Sicilian recipe, and many are its versions.

One of the main ingredients is wild fennel. It is recommended to use long pasta, such as bucatini or spaghetti. First, it is necessary to hull the fennel, then wash it and put it to boil. Drain the fennel and save the water. Clean the sardines, soak the raisins and chop an onion.

Fry the chopped onion in a pan, add the raisins and pine nuts. Add the sardines and a sachet of saffron, dissolved in water. Add salt and pepper to taste and, in the meantime, boil the pasta, using the water from the fennel previously stored. Drain the pasta al dente and mix everything together. Sprinkle some toasted breadcrumbs over the pasta.

Saffron-based second courses

Even in second courses, whether they are meat or fish based, saffron is widely used: here are two simple recipes you can easily prepare and serve at the table.

Let’s start with saffron marinated shrimps. First, wash, shell and clean the shrimp. Finely chop a leek, season with oil, salt and pepper to your liking. Dilute the saffron with water and pour it into the bowl with the leek. Take the cleaned shrimp and place them in the bowl. Cover with foil and let them marinate in the refrigerator for about two to three hours. Then cook the whole thing in a non-stick pan. Serve with an accompanying salad and croutons.

If you and your guests do not like fish, try preparing some tasty chicken bites with saffron accompanied by a tasty vegetable caponata. First, cut the chicken breast into medium-sized cubes. In a large frying pan, sauté the finely chopped onion and carrot in extra-virgin olive oil. Brown the chicken morsels and then pour in the stock of water in which you have diluted the saffron. Let it cook until the liquid evaporates and add salt to taste.

For the vegetable caponata, you will need eggplant, zucchini, peppers, cherry tomatoes and capers. Wash and dice all the vegetables and sauté the onion, carrot and celery in a pan. Then add the eggplants; when they begin to brown, cook the zucchini and peppers together. Throw in some cherry tomatoes and let them cook. When almost cooked, add capers, previously desalted, and salt to taste. Serve and garnish with a few leaves of fresh basil.

Saffron dessert

Last but not least, you can impress your guests with a delicious saffron custard tart!

Start by preparing the shortcrust pastry and let it rest in the fridge. Next, move on to the preparation of the custard. In a saucepan, heat a liter of milk, but do not bring it to a boil, and add a sachet of saffron. Separately, work four egg yolks with about eight tablespoons of sugar until the mixture is smooth and frothy. Add eight tablespoons of flour gradually and stir gently, trying not to form lumps. Put the milk with saffron back on the heat and bring to a boil: then add the flour, sugar and egg mixture. Mix everything with a whisk and, slowly as the cream begins to thicken, lower the heat. Once you have obtained the desired consistency, turn off the heat and transfer the cream into another bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to cool.

Take the shortcrust pastry, roll it out on top of a baking sheet, trimming off the excess. Pour your cream on top of the shortcrust and then decorate the tart with the leftover shortcrust pastry, creating stripes. Bake the tart and let it cook. Once ready and cooled, you can serve it to your guests along with some fresh seasonal fruit and whipped cream.

Buon appetito!


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