Used mostly for rice dishes (risotto al zafferano, or risotto milanese), in desserts and in pasta sauces.
Saffron is Milan’s fetish spice, and appears in most dishes alla milanese. The origins of its use go back to a Belgian stained-glass maker, working on the Duomo in 1574, who was called ‘Saffron’ by his fellows because he always sprinkled a bit of the stuff in his mixes to make the glass colours deeper and richer. The other glassworkers laughed and joked that he loved saffron so much that he would soon be adding it to his food. During the wedding of Saffron’s daughter, his apprentice, meaning to play a prank, actually had the chef put saffron in the rice; everyone was astonished at the yellow concoction, but it was delicious, and the Milanese have been making their saffron risotto alla milanese ever since.
Zafferano dell'Aquila (also known as zafferano di Navelli), grown around L'Aquila, the Abruzzo capital, has DOP and Ark of Taste status, as does that of Sardinia (zafferano di San Gavino Monreale), recently revived.