Saffron Cauliflower Risotto

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.

Risotto is food for the gods. It comes from humble origins as grains of rice but develops into creamy luxuriousness that transports you to a dreamy and calmer world. I feel like I am being extravagant when I eat risotto, which is odd because it is essentially a bowl of rice with stock and cheese, nothing fancy, but what a transformation. Say the word risotto, people start to swoon and get weak in the knees. They can only respond by repeating your own words with a subtle exclamation, “Oohhhh rissoootooo, I love rissoootooo.”

The first time I had risotto was many years ago in a very fancy restaurant, Equus at The Castle in Tarrytown NY. It is a 5 star establishment that we were the lucky recipients of a gift certificate to. For our first course my husband ordered risotto and I, not knowing anything about risotto, ordered pumpkin soup. Joe being the generous person that he is, offered me a taste of his risotto. To this day it is the best thing that I have ever eaten. Selfishly, I was tempted to grab his bowl and make a run for it. Fortunately I did not run away and Joe continued to share his risotto with me. My bowl of pumpkin soup was pushed aside as we sat together savoring each bite and melting into our chairs. I do not remember anything else about that meal, only the risotto.

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
White and Green Cauliflower

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
Carnaroli Rice
Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
Parmesan Reggiano Cheese

Risotto is a favorite dish of mine but I make only a few times a year. Mostly because it requires my undivided attention when I make it, and for various reasons I see risotto as a treat. I do not save it necessarily for special occasions, just when I feel like being indulgent and know I can give it my undivided attention. Please, take me back to that point in time when nothing else mattered and my husband and I were sharing our first bowl of risotto together.

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
White and Green Cauliflower
Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
Grated Zucchini

Making risotto does require some work and skill, but mostly cooking confidence. I believe all cooks at any skill level should give it a try. You can substitute ingredients as is within your will and means, but because there are so few ingredients in the recipe, each one plays an important role and will affect the flavor of the risotto. Risotto is greater than the sum of its parts, with all of its parts adding up to enhance the flavor and transform humble ingredients into an elegant meal.

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
Ingredients for Saffron and Cauliflower Risotto

This recipe is inspired by two different types of risotto, Cauliflower Risotto and the traditional Risotto alla Milanese. I used two types of cauliflower, green and white to add some color to the dish, but I believe it would still look and taste lovely if you only used white cauliflower. I originally set out to make traditional cauliflower risotto, but I love saffron and decided it would be a nice addition. If you are not a fan of saffron then don’t use it and you will still be rewarded with a delicious and satisfying risotto.

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
Saffron and Cauliflower Risotto

Pointers for making risotto:

Homemade stock will give you a better tasting risotto then store-bought stock, this is especially true for vegetable stock. I have not found a decent store-bought vegetable stock from the grocery store. My experience with canned or boxed vegetable stock is it is usually orange in color and very dominant in one vegetable flavor like carrots or butternut squash. Not the flavors I want to stand out in a stock.  If you have to buy stock, then buy chicken stock. When you have the time I urge you to make your own and freeze it for later. For a simple vegetable stock recipe click here.

I used vegetable stock in this recipe because it is a vegetable risotto and I wanted a lighter flavor. You can use chicken stock if you prefer a richer flavor, and not cooking for vegetarians.

Risotto is made using a specific type of short grain rice, Arborio, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano. The most common one found in the US is Arborio rice. If you can get Carnaroli I would buy it over Arborio because it does not get as mushy as Arborio does. Either one is good. I have not seen Vialone Nano rice in any store here in the USA.

Risotto does require your undivided attention. Have all the ingredients prepped and ready before you start. You do not have to stir the risotto the entire time, but you do have to stir it most of the time so it does not burn on the bottom of the pan or stick. Stirring also develops the creaminess of the risotto.

You should use a high sided pan with a big “mouth”. A Dutch oven works really well. I used to use my sauté pan and I found the liquid evaporated to quickly. I have been very happy with the results using my 5 quart Dutch oven.

Add the liquid a little at a time and stir frequently. Add more liquid when all the liquid is absorbed but the rice and pan is not dry.

Use only freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano, or Pecorino Romano cheese. Parmesan is made from cow’s milk and is more mellow than Pecorino Romano cheese which is made from sheep’s milk. Pecorino Romano has a sharper and saltier taste compared to Parmesan. I use Romano interchangeably with Parmesan. (I actually prefer it especially with pasta.) You can find these cheeses near the deli section in your grocery store.

Do not overcook the risotto. Turn off the heat just before you believe it is done, just shy al dente. Similar to pasta the rice will continue to cook once the heat is turned off. You want the risotto to be perfect as you sit down to eat it.

As risotto cools it will begin to get thicker and dryer, like polenta. Risotto needs to be served immediately after it is done cooking.

Risotto does not mound up like regular rice or formed into molds. It should slowly spread across the plate as you spoon it on: not loose like soup, more like porridge or stew.

Risotto can be made using a variety of vegetables, shellfish, some meats like sausage, and herbs. Have fun coming up with your own variation.

Leftover risotto can be made into rice balls. An Italian speciality called Arancini and Suppli from Southern Italy. Find a recipe here. Or risotto cakes, here.

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.
Saffron and Cauliflower Risotto

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

4-6 servings

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto

Saffron Cauliflower Risotto is a creamy dish that can be served as a vegetarian entree or a side dish to pair with fish. Risotto is pure comfort food with an elegant twist. A humble grain turned regal when infused with saffron and cooked slowly in sock, parmesan cheese and butter. A labor of love but well worth it.

Serve immediately.

Serve with a green salad if using as an entree, or serve with seared fish like halibut, salmon or cod or shrimp.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups (1 liter and 473 ml) Vegetable or chicken broth *preferably homemade
  • 1 head Cauliflower about 1 lb 9 oz (720 g)
  • 1/2 ( about 4 oz/ 115 g) of a medium Zucchini
  • 2 Tb olive oil, or butter, plus 2 Tb of butter for finishing the risotto
  • 1 onion
  • 1 1/2 cup (10 oz/ 299 g) arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz/ 118 ml) dry white wine, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/2 tea saffron threads
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz/ 54 g) finely grated parmesan reggiano
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh ground black Pepper
  • Small handful of flat leaf parsley, minced

Instructions

    Prep
  1. Have vegetable or chicken stock made.
  2. Core the cauliflower and discard. Cut the cauliflower into small bite size pieces, separating the "flowery" parts from their stems. Cut up the inner stems of the cauliflower florets into small pieces. Set aside.
  3. Trim off one end of the zucchini and use a julienne grater from a mandoline, or a box grater, and grate the zucchini. Set aside.
  4. Mince the onion then set aside until cooking the risotto
  5. Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower florets to the boiling water and blanch for about 3 minutes. You will want the cauliflower to be tender but crisp and keep their shape. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon or spider and put into a bowl.
  6. Return the water to a boil and cook the cauliflower stems for 5 minutes, until slightly soft. Once cooked, remove the cauliflower stems from the water with a slotted spoon or spider, and place in a mini food processor. Pour the cauliflower water into a small bowl and set aside.
  7. Add about 2 Tb of the cauliflower water into the food processor with the cauliflower and process until the cauliflower is smooth. Set aside. If you do not own a food processor, place the blanched cauliflower stems on a cutting board and mince extra fine or mash with the side of your knife.
    Making the risotto
  1. Put all of your vegetable stock into a medium saucepan and turn on the heat to medium. The stock needs to stay hot while you are cooking risotto.
  2. Place a 5 quart Dutch Oven on the burner and turn the heat to medium. Add 2Tb of olive oil (or butter) to the pan and heat up the oil. Add the minced onions and 1/4 tea of Kosher salt and sweat the onions. Stir the onions to get them evenly coated with the olive oil. Cook the onions until they are soft and translucent, be careful not to brown the onions.
  3. Add the zucchini then stir to combine and cook for a few minutes until all the liquid has evaporated.
  4. Add the rice then stir to coat with the oil and cook until the rice becomes translucent around the edges of each grain.
  5. Add the wine, stir and cook until the liquid is all gone.
  6. Add the saffron threads, stir into the rice then add 1/2 cup, or ladleful, of stock to the rice. Stir to combine and cook, stirring every minute or so until the liquid is absorbed, but not dry.
  7. Add more stock, a ladleful or 1/2 cup at a time. Stir into the rice and then cook, stirring every minute.
  8. Continue adding stock when the liquid is absorbed by the rice, but the rice and pan are not dry. Stirring every minute until the rice is al dente. Start tasting the rice at the 20 minute mark to gauge its progress. My risotto usually takes about 30 minutes. Use the cauliflower water if you need more stock.
  9. 4 minutes before the rice is done add the cauliflower, the puree and florets, with some stock. Stir to combine and continue to cook.
  10. Add the cheese and butter with some stock and stir to combine.
  11. The risotto is done when the rice is soft, but there is a slight bite in the middle.
  12. The risotto should be loose not dry, more like stew consistency.
  13. Add the minced parsley then serve the risotto in individual soup bowls.
  14. Serve immediately and garnish with more grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Notes

If you want a more creamy consistency you can add more parmesan and butter. Add them in slowly and a little bit at a time. I have seen various recipes that up add up to a cup (108 g) of parmesan cheese and 4 Tb of butter. Be careful not to make the risotto mushy and heavy.

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2 thoughts on “Saffron Cauliflower Risotto”

  1. Thank you for the post. I think I’ll try this recipe tonight. I bought a lovely looking cauliflower head at a farmer’s market yesterday. This will be a treat!

    I like your description of your first experience with Risotto. You’re right, it is more than the sum of its parts. It was son who taught me to make risotto. He showed me that it isn’t hard, just a bit time consuming, but well worth it!

    1. I have a great picture of you learning how to make risotto at the stove with one of your sons. Because it is time consuming it is nice to have the company. Although some people enjoy the “…do not bother me I am making risotto,” and see it as a meditation, pour, stir, wait, pour, stir, wait… The heat is one, the risotto is cooking, and I have 30 minutes to myself. Hope you liked your cauliflower risotto.

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