Saffron for Shoes – A Journey & Recipes from Abruzzo


I lived in Castelnuovo di San Pio Delle Camere, in the centre of the Piana di Navelli.  From late October to November we would walk to our fields in the hills adjacent to the Appenine Mountains for the harvest of the saffron flower.  We would be there at dawn in the early mornings so that we could pick the flowers when the sun started to come up.
We worked very hard in the morning, sometimes entertained by the women singing traditional Abruzzese songs.  At night we would separate the crimson spice stigmas, from the flower’s golden yellow pistals.  What an experience that was.  For reward my Mother used to buy me shoes and a new tempering (little carving knife) at L’Aquila’s mercato di San Silvester.  What happy times those were!!!
Vitto, USA

The Spice That Bought Shoes for the New Year

Vitto’s story explains why if you look back through the centuries you won’t find many saffron recipes in Abruzzesi cookbooks, despite the region’s renowned cultivation of this exotic spice since the 15th century, it was simply too precious to keep!
Its fine threads bought shoes and other vital essentials to the families in the villages around Navelli.  Similar to truffles it would be sold on to spice agents from Rome or chefs in Milan.  Today however it is a little different, you will find it in cheeses, ice cream, torrone and much more in the region.   Here are some recipes that caught our eye whilst we researched modern-day Abruzzo saffron recipes, and one comes from a new grower, a Venetian in Abruzzo who has shared her failproof Prosecco Risotto.
Saffron L'Aquila

Farro, Saffron & Dark Chocolate Drop Biscuits

An ancient grain take on old-school biscotti with a touch of spice and indulgent dark chocolate for something completely different
Course Snack
Cuisine Italian


  • 300 g Type 0 Flour
  • 200 g Farro/Spelt Flour
  • 170 g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 Good Pinch Salt
  • 6/7 Saffron stigmas or 1 Wrap of Ground Saffron
  • 200 ml Delicate Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 tbsp 3 Tablespoons Dark Chocolate Drops
  • 2 tbsp Brown Sugar


  • Soak the saffron stigmas in two tablespoons of hot water for at least 20 minutes, mashing them with a teaspoon.
  • Beat the eggs with the sugar, the oil, the salt and two tablespoons of water in which the saffron stigmas were found. Then add the sifted flour with the baking powder and the chocolate chips. Make a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Then form two uniform rectangles approximately one centimeter high. Place them well away from each other (they will rise a lot) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle the surface with demerara sugar.
  • Bake at 170 ° C for 20 minutes. Remove the rectangles from the oven, cut them into slices and then put them back on the oven tray with the cut side facing up.
  • Bake the biscuits again for another 5 minutes.
  • Leave to cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container where they can be kept for several days.
Keyword Saffron, biscuits, saffron, laquila, navelli
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Saffron picking in Abruzzo

Pear and Parmesan Sformato with Saffron

Lino Guarascio, Chef at Osteria il Borgo dei Fumari
An original and tasty dessert that will amaze guests with its delicacy. Italian 'sformato' make a super light pudding with a consistency that sits between a souffle and pastryless quiche!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Servings 12


  • 600 g Organic Pears
  • 100 g Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 8 Organic Eggs
  • 4 Organic Egg Yolks
  • 1 Sachet of Vanilla
  • 4 g Organic Sugar
  • 2 Sachets of L'Aquila Ground Saffron
  • 12 Chopped Pistils of L'Aquila PDO Saffron
  • 1 litre Organic Milk
  • 400 g Organic Cream

For the Caramel

  • 200 g Caster Sugar
  • 1 Glass of Water
  • 3-4 Drops of Lemon Juice


  • Make the caramel by putting the 200 g of sugar, the glass of water and the lemon juice in a saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil at 120 degrees until the sugar has darkened.
  • Remove from the heat and fill the bottom of one large or small individual aluminum molds with the caramel.
  • Peel the pears and cut them into super fine pieces.
  • Combine them with the parmesan, 200 ml of milk, vanilla and saffron and mix well.
  • In a mixer whisk at all the eggs, both whole and the yolks, with the 400 grams of sugar.
  • Add the pear mixture and add the rest of the boiling milk and the cold cream.
  • Mix again with the whisk. Put the mixture into the molds and cook in a bain-marie at 110 degrees in a fan oven for about an hour.
  • Remove from the oven, allow the sformato to cool.
  • Take out of the mold and sprinkle with a little icing sugar before serving


Chef Lino Guarascio is the owner of the restaurant "Osteria Il Borgo dei Fumari" (via XXV Aprile, 14 - Prata D’Ansidonia - Aq).
Keyword Saffron, Parmesan, Pudding
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!


Saffron Stamens

Mozzarella a & Saffron Fritelle

Marco Fabio Dei Genovesi
Just like blinis these decadent mini mozzarella and saffron pancakes are incredibly morerish, one is never enough!
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 30 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8


  • frying pan


  • 600 g Mozzarella
  • 200 g 00 Flour
  • 25 g Brewer's Yeast
  • 2-3 g Ground Navelli Saffron Powder
  • Extra Virgin Olive
  • Salt


  • Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water.
  • Finely chop the Mozzarella or Fiore di Latte with a knife.
  • Once the Mozzarella is well shredded, put it in a very large bowl.
  • Add the flour and 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil, a pinch of salt, saffron and the yeast.
  • Cover everything and leave to rise at room temperature for about two hours (if it is winter and it is cold, leave it t to rise near a heat source).
  • By this time, the mixture will have more than doubled in volume.
  • Heat the oil to piping hot, take a tablespoon of the batter and drop it into the batter to create mini pancakes.
  • The batter has a v light consistency so don't turn them simply brown on one side so that when they are removed from the oil they are golden on one side and white and stringy on the opposite ... delicious!
  • Drain them on absorbent paper, add a pinch of salt and eat them hot !!! An exceptional appetiser!
Keyword Mozzarella, Antipasti, Fritter
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Prosecco Risotto

Prosecco Risotto

Stefania Volpina
A fallproof Risotto recipe from one of Abruzzo's newest saffron growers from Venice
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Primo
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6


  • 6 g Saffon Threads
  • 600 g Rice
  • 125 g Butter
  • 1 White Onion
  • 80 g Grated Grana Padana Cheese
  • 200 ml Prosecco
  • 1 l Vegetable Broth
  • Water
  • Salt to taste
  • Saffron and Chopped Parsley to Garnish


  • Put your saffron threads into a small glass. Add warm water over the saffron so it is completely covered, gently mix and leave to infuse overnight, in this way they will release all their colour.
  • Prepare the vegetable broth using aromatic herbs to flavour it: a few bay leaves and savory is delicious, you need a a litre
  • Add a spoonful of the saffron infusion to the broth.
  • Peel and finely chop the onion so that it can melt while cooking and not be perceived when you finally savor the delicious risotto.
  • In a large saucepan add 50g of the butter, melt it over low heat, then add the chopped onion and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes adding broth to keep the sauce from drying out: the onion should be very transparent and soft.
  • Once the onion is stewed, pour in the rice and toast it for 3-4 minutes, to seal the grains of rice and ensure an even cooking.
  • Add the Prosecco and let it evaporate completely. After which cook the rice for between 18-20 minutes, adding the broth a ladle at a time, as needed and as it is absorbed by the rice: the grains must always be covered.
  • Five minutes before the end of cooking, pour the remainder of your saffron infusion and the stigmas to flavour and dye the risotto a beautiful gold colour.
  • After cooking, turn off the heat, stir in the grated cheese, the remainder of the butter, mix and cover the pan with a tea towel for 2 minutes to infuse.
  • Serve hot, garnishing the dish with some saffron threads and, if you like, a few flat-leaf parsley leaves.
Keyword risotto, rice, vegetarian, abruzzo, truffles, pecorino, Vegetarian, Prosecco
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

With grateful thanks to Lena Liberale for her work on translating these recipes, she maintains the very informative Federazione Abruzzese, Hamilton, Ontario fb page

Sam Dunham
Author: Sam Dunham

Sam is a very lucky midlife 'mamma' to A who is 12 and juggles her work as a self-employed freelance SEO food and travel copywriter and EFL teacher. She is the founder of the Life In Abruzzo Cultural Association, co-founder of Let's Blog Abruzzo. she is the founder of the 'English in the Woods' initiative, teaching English outdoors in a forest style school.

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