Strette allo Zafferano col Trito di Vitello

Narrow Noodles with Saffron and Veal

This recipe developed out of the desire to produce an alternative to Bolognese meat sauce that would be lighter, leaner, faster to make, and that would contain no tomato. I chose veal, which cooks rapidly and, unlike the beef in Bologna’s ragù, does not need to be sweetened with slow-cooking vegetables like carrot. To give the flavor some spice, I added saffron dissolved in cream.

The sauce does everything I had looked for and, as a bonus, it endows the pasta with a lovely golden color similar to that of the pasta we used to make in the country, with eggs from chickens that had been fed only corn.


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons chopped onion
  • ¾ pound ground veal, preferably from the shoulder
  • Salt
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • ¼ teaspoon powdered saffron*
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • Tagliolini (or strette as they would be called in Bologna) made with 3 large eggs and about 2 cups unbleached flour, as described
  • Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan) for the table


  1. Put the butter, vegetable oil, and chopped onion in a skillet or sauté pan and turn on the heat to medium high.
  2. When the onion becomes colored a pale gold, add the ground veal. Cook the veal, crumbling it with a fork and turning it from time to time, until you have browned it all over. Sprinkle with salt and liberal grindings of pepper, turning the meat two or three times.
  3. Add the saffron and cream, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook the cream down, stirring frequently, until it is no longer runny.
  4. Drop the pasta into a pot of abundant boiling salted water. The moment it is tender but firm to the bite, drain, toss immediately in a warm bowl with the sauce, and serve at once with grated Parmesan on the side.

*Powdered saffron is not as easy to find as saffron strands. However, it is worth making the effort to get because it dissolves better. If you must use the strands, chop them and increase the amount by at least ⅛ teaspoon to achieve comparable intensity of flavor.