Crocus sativus – saffron growing in Abruzzo


PictureAbruzzese saffron infused in water

Next time you order risotto alla milanese in Italy, the saffron or “zafferano” you are eating is most likely from the region of Abruzzo, in central Italy. The plains of Navelli in the l’Aquila province are home to this delicate spice.
Saffron is obtained from the stigmas of the violet-coloured crocus sativus flower and grow to around 12-15 cm tall. It has been cultivated in Navelli since the 14th Century, when a local Dominican monk brought back a number of these plants from Spain to experiment with their cultivation on his family’s estate. The terrain in Navelli- at 800 meters above sea level,a dry climate and fertile fields not too high in clay content- make it an ideal habitat for saffron cultivation.
Saffron was used to dye fabrics and hair and its additional curative powers have long been known to help digestion, rheumatism and colds.
The area of cultivation in Abruzzo is strictly limited to 8 hectares of land. A sad reduction from the 430 hectares cultivated at the turn of the last century.
Harvesting this precious spice occurs in autumn towards the end of October and into early November where the stigmas are harvested by hand before sunrise, that is, before the flowers open up, so all of their aromas are still sealed within. 200 flowers are needed to obtain one gram of fresh stigmas! The flowers are opened one by one and the stigmas are removed by hand and then slowly desiccated on the warm ash of the domestic fireplaces on the very same day. The saffron is mainly exported to northern Italy and northern European markets.

The Cooperative “Altopiano di Navelli” (Navelli Highland) was formed in 1971 and represents 40 farmers who cultivate saffron over the 8 hectares.
You too can experience the pleasure of visiting this beautiful and unspoilt region of Abruzzo – savour the regional dishes with local ingredients such as “spaghetti alla chitarra with saffron and truffle” and take part in the time honoured traditions and festivities. When you travel to Abruzzo  with Luciana you will definitely experience the pleasure of indulging in many traditional dishes with saffron! See Luciana’s tour programme in 2015 
LATEST NEWS: In Australia, saffron is being grown successfully in Tasmania by a committed couple in the Huon Valley.
Read here the latest documentary on their commitment to producing the highest quality saffron in the southern hemisphere.

Here is a simple recipe to use your saffron. This is fabulous to use as an ANTIPASTO and a palate cleanser between the starter and main meal. I eat it on fresh crusty bread. Alternatively it is a great dessert also!

150 gr fresh ricotta (cow’s milk or sheep’s milk ricotta), drained overnight
1 tbspn honey
6 -8 saffron threads, infused in 1 tbspn warm water

* Drain the ricotta in a sieve, overnight to remain more of the whey liquid. You can use the liquid and add to your other baking – pikelets, cakes etc.
* You can place the drained ricotta in a mould so that when you turn it out onto a plate it is nice and neat (better than what I did in the above photo!)
* Turn out the ricotta mould onto a serving plate, drizzle the honey over the ricotta.
* Finally, gently place the infused saffron and liquid if not too watery.

Buon appetito!

Saffron with Ricotta and Honey