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Our creamy vegan saffron risotto - similar to risotto alla Milanese - has all the taste of the original Italian recipe, but without butter, without cheese, and with little oil.
We still get a creamy and tasty risotto thanks to the way we toast the rice, thanks to a good base broth, and to an excellent "mantecare".
Ingredients & substitutions
Saffron threads: we recommend getting saffron threads as opposed to powdered saffron. The flavor is much more intense with the threads, and you know for sure they are not cut with some cheaper powder. Abruzzo and Sardegna in Italy produce some of the finest saffron in the world.
Risotto rice: not all types of rice are suitable for risotto. The rice variety you should use is Carnaroli, Arborio, Vialone Nano, Baldo, and Roma. All of them do a really good job, if worked properly, at keeping al dente, and creamy, thanks to their high content of starch.
But let's be honest, sometimes it is hard to find those varieties outside of Italy. So if you can't, just get rice that says "risotto rice" on the package. If you follow our tips you'll still get a great creamy vegan saffron risotto.
Dry white wine: we use it to deglaze the rice and to add acidity to our creamy vegan saffron risotto.
White onion: to build flavor at the start of the risotto preparation.
Vegetable broth: for risotto preparations, we recommend making your own vegetable broth by boiling together carrot, celery, onion, a couple of bay leaves, and some coarse sea salt. Pre-made vegetable bouillon won't yield the best risotto in our experience.
Extra virgin olive oil and nutritional yeast: both of good quality as they will give the final oomph to the risotto. We use them to "mantecare" - make creamy - this creamy vegan saffron risotto at the end. They work perfectly with saffron.
Don't wash the rice
When you make risotto you should never wash the risotto rice. Washing it will remove the starch, and that will result in a risotto with less flavor and less creamy.
Use rice made for risotto
Arborio, Vialone Nano, Carnaroli, Roma, or Baldo. If you can't find these varieties, go for generic risotto rice. Never use other types of rice to make risotto - like basmati, wild rice, wholegrain, etc - it won't work.
Toast the rice
The first step of making risotto should always be toasting the rice. Toasting prepares the rice for the long cooking time ahead. First, it enhances its flavor. Second, it makes it more resistant to the cooking broth so that it releases the starch slower, making the final dish more creamy. Finally, it helps the rice grains to keep their shape and keep al dente.
In most risotto preparations the rice is toasted in a soffritto of olive oil (or butter) and onion. This practice is outdated, in the sense that in the majority of cases, it is not necessary.
We believe - and with us some of the most acknowledged risotto chefs of Italy - that the rice for risotto should be toasted dry, on a hot pan, for a few minutes. No oil, no butter, no onion.
Why? Because toasting in a soffritto of fat and onion was done in the past to cover the taste of the jute fabric, used to transport the rice from one place to the other. Today this is not the case, and we don't need to cover the rice flavor the same way.
Add broth and keep stirring
Risotto requires attention. Add broth, two ladles at a time (max), then keep stirring often, almost the whole time. When the broth has almost completely evaporated, add two more ladles. Stirring helps the rice release the starch, which then will help with the creaminess of the dish.
Also, if you stop stirring, there is a very high risk that the rice will stick to your pan. If it does, the integrity of the rice grain will be compromised, and the rice won't retain its bite and consistency. It will become mushy and soggy. You'll get rice pudding, not risotto.
Most people believe that the creaminess of risotto is given by adding butter and cheese at the end.
And so, when they are close to serving the risotto, and the rice doesn't have the desired creaminess, they just add a truckload of butter and cheese to it to make it creamy.
This is not entirely correct. Yes, you'll get some artificial creaminess this way. But the rice will be fat and greasy, and you'll want to go take a nap after eating it.
The butter and the cheese will overpower the actual rice and theme of the risotto. Of course, if you are trying to make a butter and cheese risotto, then go ahead.
But in most cases, butter and cheese are not necessary, or at least, not in the quantities that people use them these days.
In most of our creamy vegan risottos, we prefer a good quality extra virgin olive oil to add some depth to the dish, and a good quality nutritional yeast to add some sapidity and umami.
The real reason why risotto gets creamy is because of its starch. While cooking, the rice releases starch gradually, then when it cools down, it tries to absorb it back, leaving behind a cream. So while cooking we want to enhance this process rather than just adding butter.
As a first step, it's most important to get good risotto rice. Then we need to cook it right. Toasting it. Stirring it. Adding broth a little at a time. If you follow our recipe and tips, you'll get a vegan risotto that is creamier than most.
As a final and most controversial tip, if you don't find great risotto rice with a naturally high content of starch that will yield the creamiest risotto, then we recommend adding 1 teaspoon of rice starch or corn starch towards the end. Try and let us know what you think.
Questions & answers
Risotto made the old traditional way is NOT a healthy dish as it is loaded with oil, butter, and cheese.
Our creamy vegan risotto on the other hand is very healthy. It's still made following the traditional Italian method, but it has half the calories of traditional risotto, it's made without cheese and without butter, and it's as creamy and tasty as the nonvegan version.
Arborio is one variety of rice that can be used to make risotto due to its short and starchy grain. It is possibly the most popular choice to make risotto, both in Italy and abroad. Other varieties are Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, Roma, and Baldo.
Risotto and vegan risottos can be made with anything you want. Just like pasta sauces, risotto can be made with many ingredients.
We suggest following the seasons and get creative. In spring try asparagus risotto. In summer, try lemon risotto. In autumn try mushroom or pumpkin risotto. In winter try saffron or tomato risotto.
Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, Roma, and Baldo are the best choices to make risotto.
No. Jasmine rice is not good for risotto because the grain is too thin and long (it will break while cooking), it lacks bite, and also it doesn't contain enough starch to make the dish creamy.
You can use your imagination to make any flavor risotto. It is such a versatile dish, that's why we love it so much. Once you've learned the basics, then go ahead and customize following your creativity. Here are some of our favorites:
Made with leftover saffron risotto, the nonvegan version of this Italian fried rice was born in a famous Milan restaurant (Ristorante Savini) in the 70s. It was served to the guests that would attend the restaurant late in the evening, after a concert in the nearby theatre "La Scala". It quickly became one of the most sought-after meals of the Italian elite, actors, and famous people, that would go to the Savini restaurant and order this simple, ingenious, and irresistible dish.
We took inspiration from some of the best chefs in the world to make this one and give a full round asparagus flavor that is vegan and creamy.
A staple of Italian home cooking, a comfortable, cozy, creamy vegan tomato risotto that everyone will love!
This creamy vegan saffron risotto is best eaten a few minutes after it's made. If you have leftover, store it in the fridge, in an air-tight container, for up to a couple of days. Then warm it up in a pan with a dash of water.
If you have a lot of leftover risotto, consider turning it into either a riso al salto, or into Supplì di Riso, two delicious traditional Italian dishes made with leftover risotto rice.
Creamy Vegan Saffron Risotto
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads (0.20 g)
- 320 g (1½ cups) risotto rice (arborio, vialone nano, carnaroli)
- 50 g (¼ cups) dry white wine
- 1½ litres (½ gal) water
- 2 white onions
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery
- 2 bay leaves (optional)
- ½ tbsp coarse sea salt
- 2 tsp salt
- 2½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ tbsp nutritional yeast
Prepare the broth and the saffron
- In a pot, add the water, 1 onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, and the coarse sea salt. Bring to a boil, then let simmer on low heat throughout the whole recipe.TIP: cut the onion in half and the carrot and celery in three pieces.
- In a smal pot, add ½ cup of water. Then add the saffron threads in it. Warm up the water on low heat. Don't let the water boil, but let the saffron release the colour in the hot water for about 3 minutes, while stirring. Take off of the heat and set aside.
Make the risotto
- On a pan, add the risotto rice. Turn the heat on and toast the rice for 2 to 3 minutes. Move the rice around the pan continuously while you toast it. The rice is toasted once you start smelling its aroma. Remove the rice from the hot pan and set aside in a large bowl.TIP: the best way to toast the rice is without any fat or liquid. Just on a hot pan.TIP: do not use a non-stick pan for risotto.
- In the same pan, add 1 ladle of vegetable broth, then 1 very finely chopped onion. Let the onion cook in the broth on low heat, until it becomes translucent. It can take from 5 to 10 minutes. Add more broth if necessary. Do not let the onion carameize or change colour.
- Turn the heat to high, then quickly add in the rice and stir fast with a wooden spoon to incorporate the rice with the onion. Keep stirring on high heat for 30 seconds.
- Add the white wine to the hot pan with the rice. Keep stirring to spread the wine and the rice across the pan evenly. When the wine has evaporated completely, add 2 ladles of vegetable broth and bring to a gentle simmer. Keep stirring.
- When the liquid in the pan has almost evaporated, add two more ladles of vegetable broth. Keep stirring often, gently, and accross the whole pan, from the sides to the centre, almost for the whole time. As the liquid evaporates, add more broth, two ladles at a time.
- Half way through the cooking time, around the 8 minute mark, add the saffron and its liquid into the risotto.Finish cooking - adding the broth two ladles at a time - until the rice is cooked al dente. That is, 2 minutes less than it says on your rice package. A little hard on the inside.
- Take the pan off the heat and let the rice rest for 30 seconds. The rice should not be too thick, nor too liquid. It should be creamy.
- Off the heat, add the nutritional yeast, and the extra virgin olive oil. Stir fast for about 1.5 minutes, or until everything melts together.At this point the risotto should be creamy and ready to be served.
- Scoop about 1½ to 2 ladles of the risotto per serving plate. Place the risotto in the middle of the plate and let it be. Do not flatten it with your ladle.
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Did you try this recipe at home? Let us know in the comments below, or take a picture and tag us on Instagram @italiaplantbased.