Saffron and Lemon Risotto


Preparation info

  • Serves


    • Difficulty


Appears in

One Good Dish

By David Tanis

Published 2013

  • About

Some rich chicken broth, an onion, a pinch of saffron, and a lemon can turn a handful of arborio or other risotto rice into a fine small meal. Once you master the technique—it needs to simmer briskly, and it takes a little nursing—you’ll be able to produce a good risotto in about 20 minutes.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup short-grain Italian rice, such as arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano
  • Small pinch of saffron, crumbled
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth, heated
  • Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • About ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


    In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, season, and cook gently until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and saffron, stir well to coat the rice, and let sizzle a bit. Allow the onion to color slightly, add the wine and a good pinch of salt, and cook for 1 minute.

    Add 1 cup of the hot broth, stir, and adjust the heat to maintain a brisk simmer. Stir frequently as the rice absorbs the liquid. When you see little sinkholes on the surface of the rice, it is time to add more broth. Do this every 5 minutes, stirring in ½ cup chicken broth each time. The total cooking time should be 20 minutes or so, and the rice grains should still be a bit al dente.

    Add the lemon zest and juice and the butter. Taste a spoonful to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Add a splash more broth if the risotto seems too stiff. Stir in the grated Parmesan and serve in shallow soup bowls. If you prefer a more soupy risotto, as I sometimes do, ladle a little extra broth into each bowl.