Saturday, October 9, 2010

Saffron Risotto with Chicken Pinwheels per Chiara

I recently took part in a food exchange on a fun website called Foodie Exchange. Food lovers around the world pair up and exchange their regional food specialities. I'm a lover of food and culture, so this was PERFECT! I exchanged with my  new friend Chiara from Sardinia, Italy. My package arrived a couple of days ago and was full of amazing Sardinian food specialities. I'll feature these items in traditional Sardinian recipes next weekend...but I was so excited to cook with my goodies that I chose one item to use last night!!

Chiara's family grows their own organic saffron, so she offered to send me some. Yes, please!! I love saffron, so I was very excited to receive her home-grown saffron. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do with at least some of it: make Risotto alla Milanese. The idea of making risotto can be intimidating...I know, it used to intimidate me too -- all that stirring. The good news is that once you get a few basic techniques down, risotto isn't difficult to make at all. It takes a bit of stove time, but you're rewarded in the end with something as luscious and comforting as a cashmere sweater!!!

The rice you choose is important. Most risotto recipes call for Arborio rice, which is a short-grained Italian rice. However, Thomas Keller's French Laundry cookbook recommends using Carnaroli -- another short-grained Italian rice -- instead. Chef Keller contends that Carnaroli results in the creamiest risotto. I gave it a try last time I made risotto and concur...the resulting risotto is velvety and super-creamy!  The second thing to remember is to take. your. time. You can't rush good risotto. There's something very therapeutic about standing at the stove, stirring a pot of risotto. I suggest putting on a little jazz in the background and pouring a glass of white wine to keep you company while you cook!! I served this amazing risotto with Italian chicken rolls using some ingredients I had on hand in the fridge. 

Risotto alla Milanese per Chiara
Risotto adapted from Food & Wine

Step 1:  To assemble the chicken rolls, lay three chicken cutlets on a sheet of foil. Salt and pepper to taste. Top each cutlet with one or two small pieces of fresh mozzarella, a basil leaf, and a bit of freshly grated garlic. Roll the cutlets up and secure with a large toothpick. I used wooden skewers that I cut in half. Set aside while you get the risotto going.

Step 2:  Heat 3 cups of chicken stock in a large measuring cup. In a heavy saucepan, heat 2 tbs. butter and 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/2 cup finely chopped onion and cook for about 10 minutes. Add two pinches of saffron threads, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add 1.5 cups Carnaroli rice and stir with a wooden spoon or silicone spoonula for 3-4 minutes.

Step 3:  Add 1/2 cup white wine to the rice + 3/4 cup of the stock. 

Cook, stirring almost continuously, until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Continue adding stock 3/4 cup at a time and stirring until absorbed before adding more stock. 

Step 4:  While you're tending to the risotto, you can prepare the chicken rolls on the next burner over. Put a bit of extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick skillet over med-high eat. Salt and pepper the outside of each chicken roll. Brown the chicken pieces on each side. Turn the heat to med-low, cover, and simmer while the risotto finishes.

Step 5:  After the risotto has been cooking for about 20 minutes, give it a taste. It's ready when it's creamy and tender...but with a bit of firmness. Sort of like al dente pasta. It'll look a bit like this...creamy and a gorgeous shade of yellow:

Step 6:  Just before serving, add two tbs. butter and 1/2 cup grated parmesan. Stir to combine. The end result is a pot of creamy, golden risotto goodness. The kitchen smells amazing, and you're anticipating a fantastic dinner!!! I spooned the risotto into serving bowls. Just before eating, I sliced the chicken rolls into medallions and placed them on top of the risotto. It was as pretty to look at as it was to eat. the flavors were very well matched. 

Chiara - Grazie for all the foods you sent...I can't wait to try them all! The saffron tasted amazing...I'm so honored that you sent me this saffron grown by your family. I've never been to Italy, but I had a taste of it here in Texas last night!!


  1. Wendy - this is soooo cool! I love the recipe and food exchange - what a fantastic idea. You are so lucky to have received such an amazing gift from Chiara, too. I'm jealous! I'm sure she is feeling equally lucky having received some Texas treats, too, no doubt. The risotto looks amazing and so does the chicken. I can't wait to try them both and thanks for all the great tips. I'll have to look for carnaroli rice - I've never tried it before. Great post!


  2. Wendy your risotto looks lovely, and I'm soo happy to see my saffron on your beautyful blog!
    I've been so happy to exchange with you!

    love, Chiara

  3. The Foodie Exchange sounds like a FANTASTIC idea! I must get in on this!!

    And the risotto you made looks delicious. I've read the same thing about Carnaroli rice, but it's hard to find 'round here! I LOVE what your stuffed the chicken with. I am sure Chiara is proud! And homemade saffron?? WANT!

  4. Thanks for the love, gals!
    @Veronica - The food exchange program is very fun...I think all my readers should sign up and do one! The chicken was really good for something I whipped up on the spur of the moment after staring in the fridge and not wanting plain chicken!

    @Chiara - Thanks, dear! I love the flavor of the saffron and plan to use it wisely so I can get two or three more dishes from it! It gave the risotto such great flavor and color. Grazie!!!

    @Sommer - I had to go to a gourmet market to get carnaroli rice. It's about $6 for a bag big enough for two batches of risotto. If you can't find it, arborio will be fine. I was just thinking that the chicken would have been great with a strip or two of sundried tomato in there! Next time!!

  5. I've still never tried making risotto...I love eating it, but am scared to try it. I really need to get over my fears, because this looks delicious.
    The food exchange sounds fun, too!

  6. That looks like a restaurant dish, Wendy! How awesome to get homegrown saffron!

  7. I'm so jealous of all your saffron! I have a tiny, tiny bit left from my daughter's trip to Spain.... I think I'll make your rice with it! I am so curious about what you sent your Italian friend? Do tell!

  8. I sent her mix to make biscuits and gravy, cornbread mix, dried ancho chiles, rice from my hometown (Texmati), and spices (comino, Mexican oregano, and chili powder).

  9. Wendy use saffron with no parsimony(or thrift?) 'cause I'll send you more on early dec. with Christmas goods. a friend of mine is producing it near here, and uses so nice clay tins to put have to have it!
    I'm sorry, I know my English is going worse everyday! :D


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