Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

I’m not sure if I’ve made it clear yet, but I am somewhat obsessed with saffron. It started when I was about 10 and read somewhere that in ancient Persia, saffron threads were woven into royal textiles, and ritually offered to divinities. The fact that Gualtiero Marchesi, the star Italian chef of those years, was pairing it with real gold leaves in his signature risottos, just added to the mystique, as did the fact that it takes thousands of flowers and many hours of labor to gather together just a pound of stems.

saffron by

This sounded so special to me, so classy, that one of the first dishes I learned to make on my own and would treat my friends to in junior high, was the traditional Risotto Milanese. My experiments did not end here, unfortunately. As a teen-ager, I even tried using a saffron infusion as a face toner, to give my skin a beautiful golden tint. While this is said to have worked wonders for Cleopatra, the only result I obtained was that my then-crush asked me if I had jaundice (I have since limited my use of spices to food).

Saffron diluted by

Adolescent traumas aside, I still think that there is something magical about saffron, with its unique, metallic honey-like aroma, and  luminous yellow-orange color. From India to Persia, from Turkey to Spain, and of course Italy – it’s constantly a symbol of prosperity and holiday.

Here is how to make it even more festive….

Gift-Wrapped Risotto

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

55 minutes

serves 4


  • 1 3/4 cup Arborio or other risotto rice (Vialone nano, Carnaroli)
  • 3 leeks
  • 1/2 tbsp saffron threads
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano
  • salt and pepper


Slice one leek very thinly into rings (I use a mandoline), and cook it in 2 tbsp butter until soft. Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and allow it to evaporate. Add the saffron, diluted in 3 tbsp hot broth, and start adding hot stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring almost continuously. As soon as the stock absorbs, add more hot stock. Cook until creamy and "al dente" (about 18 minutes).Add the remaining butter and cheese, and season with salt and pepper.

Slice the 2 remaining leeks length-wise into strips. Blanch the strips for 1 minute in boiling salted water. Use tongs to transfer into a bowl of ice water. Drain and dry on paper towel.

Brush muffin or creme caramel pans with oil (or use silicone ones), line them with the leek strips leaving about 1" hanging out. Press the risotto into the pans with your hands or a spoon, and close the leeks over the risotto. You could also "tie" the packages with chives (blanch first). Bake for about 15-20 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 350 F. Turn out carefully and serve warm.

Another special presentation here

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  1. What a beautiful presentation of risotto! And thanks for the chuckle of your junior high saffron toner…

  2. I love how you did this. This is plated so beautifully!

  3. gorgeous presentation! saffron makes this such a powerful dish. It’s amazing that something so small can have such a punch of flavor!

  4. What a gorgeous dish! It reminds vaguely of a mini-sartù. This would be a spectacular first course at a dinner where you wanted to impress your guests.

  5. I love that you tried this on your face and your story and glad you are sticking to food. This looks amazing.

  6. Lovely story, and amazing presentation! Thank you!

  7. This is so fancy looking…like a treasure chest! I love the backstory too…funny!! I never think about what recipes would be special for holidays around the world. I don’t know saffron was a holiday ingredient, how neat!

  8. Jaundice! Oh my. Saffron is terrific on food though, you are so right. This appetizer is so beautiful and the ingredients are simple; perfection.

  9. Saffron is such a warm spice. It gives a special touch, specially in rice dishes. Such a beautiful and simple recipe. I love it!

  10. Oh my… how lovely is this?! What a gorgeous presentation Ale (and I love the name). Your photos are just beautiful 🙂

  11. Chicchissimo, questo venerdì ho ospiti a cena e faccio la prova!

  12. This is amazing. I love risotto Milanese and I’m always looking for ways to make it look new!

  13. I’ve never used saffron but the Persians love using it. You should see the twinkle in their eyes when they talk about saffron. Your story also made me chuckle.

  14. Great idea! I love risotto but I definitely have never thought of wrapping it!

    • Hi David, this is just a (festive) variations on the many Italian traditions of hiding risotto inside pies, tarts, arancini, sformato etc… And an Italian wink at the stuffed grape leaves that are popular in Greece & the Middle East. Thanks For stopping by, now I’m off to check out YOUR blog!!!

  15. This looks superb, I could have risotto every night and I never thought of such a different presentation! If I can stuff cabbage, I bet I can also do this!

  16. What a beautiful recipe! I wish I had the grocery budget for a saffron obsession. Whenever I get my hands on it, I can’t help but to only make risotto. They’re just so good together.

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