There use to be a television show in the mid-1980's to the mid-1990's called 'Lifestyles of the RIch and Famous', hosted by Robin Leach. His signature phrase 'champagne wishes and caviar dreams' was his way, albeit ostentatiously, of wishing everyone the best in life. Back in the day, (seeings how I've already dated myself somewhat, no need to stop now), champagne and caviar were indeed the very epitome of the lifestlye of the rich and famous. Well, move over champagne and caviar and make room for saffron, deemed one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, spices in the world.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus,commonly known as the 'saffron crocus', which is native to southern Europe but now cultivated worldwide. Each crocus grows up to 8-12 inches in height and bears up to 4 flowers, each with 3 vivid crimson stigmas. These crimson stigmas are dried and used as seasoning and a colouring agent. One ounce of saffron is approximately 14,000 of these tiny threads , all of which must be handpicked from individual flowers. One pound of saffron can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. Fortunately, a little goes a long way and it can be bought in 1 and 2 ounce portions for $5-$15 at specialty stores, Bulk Barn or Amazon.ca. Most recipes require very little. In addition to being expensive, it's also quite intense and usually as little as a pinch, and not usually exceeding 1/2 tsp., is required.
The taste of saffron is difficult to label since it's complexity is experienced by everyone a little differently. Some say saffron has a faint honey flavour while others swear it tastes like the sea. Others say it tastes slightly bitter while still lending a semi-sweet taste to the dishes in which it is added. So why all the fuss about saffron, you might ask? The moment you taste anything seasoned with saffron, you'll feel like you're experiencing something truly special and yes, even a little magical. It's not just the unique flavour of saffron that makes people sit up and take note though. It's health benefits are many including being useful in the management of asthma, cough, whooping cough and it loosens phlegm making it a natural expectorant. Saffon is also used to treat insomnia, cancer, artherosclerosis, flatulence, depression, Alzheimer's disease, fright, shock, hemoptysis, pain, heartburn and dry skin. In women, saffron helps treat menstrual cramps and symptoms of PMS. In men, it is used to prevent premature ejaculation and infertility. Saffron is also considered to be an aphrodisiac.
As luck would have it, both my husband and my sister must have decided that I had been a pretty good girl over the past year, (certainly not because I might have casually mentioned to both of them about a dozen times that it might be a unique gift idea for a foodie), because both of them gave me saffron as part of my Christmas gift. In any event, with two little packets of saffron in my possession, I've been pretty much chomping on the bit since Christmas morning to create something saffronlicious! I decided on Tuesday that I could wait no more and took a proactive approach to making my personal saffron dreams reality. When my husband walked in through the front doorl from work and found me in happy cooking mode he inquired as to what had me all energized. When I told him I was in the process of making Saffron Infused Pasta and Chicken Scallopini in Saffron Cream Sauce, his only response was, 'Hmmm...and it's only Tuesday!'. (I think I frighten him a little from time to time....).
In my research on traditional recipes using saffron, I came across a very old recipe for saffron pasta originating out of Turin, Italy. I took a little artistic licence and decided to make the pasta dough in my food processor to save time. I let the saffron steep in 1 and1/2 Tbsp of hot water for about 30 minutes prior to starting to make the pasta dough. (To get the most flavour out of saffron it should first be soaked in warm water, wine or broth before adding to your recipe. Just dumping it into your food without soaking will cause it to clump up, with one person getting a very strong-tasting surprise!). After the 30 minutes, I addded the saffron water to my food processor along with 3 large eggs and pureed. Next I added in all purpsoe flour, a little salt and a Tbsp. lukewarm water. I processed all the ingredients until the dough formed into a ball. Pasta dough really needs to rest before cutting it into the type of pasta you want so I wrapped the ball of dough in plastic cling warp and refirgerated it for 30 minutes before proceeding.
While the dough was resting, I took 3 fresh chicken breasts, cut them in half crosswise and pounded them with a meat mallet until they were less than 1/4 inch thick. I seasoned both sides and set them aside while I minced 2 shallots and a clove of garlic. When the 30 minutes for the pasta dough was up, I kneaded the dough until it was about 2 inches thick, and cut it into 3 inch lengths. I then cranked each 3 inch piece through my pasta machine to the lowest setting, and then ran it through the spaghetti cutter on my pasta machine. I placed the spaghetti pasta on a baking pan dusted with flour and sprinkled a little flour on top to keep the dough from getting sticky while I prepared the Chicken Scallopini in Saffron Cream Sauce.
For the chicken, I heated some oil in a large skillet and browned the pounded chicken breasts until golden brown on both sides. I then transferred them to a serving plate, tented the plate with aluminum foil and set it aside while I prepared the cream sauce. For the sauce, I sauteed the shallots and garlic in the pan drippings for about 2 minutes. At pretty much the last minute, I decided to add in about a cup of chopped white mushrooms and sauteed them with the shallots and garlic for a few minutes before I added in 1/2 c. white wine to deglaze the pan. I let the wine simmer and reduce. While the wine was reducing, I brought a large pot of salted water to a boil for my pasta. When the wine was almost completely evaporatd, I added chicken broth and 1/4 tsp of saffron threads to the broth/wine/saffron mixture and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. With only a couple of minutes left, I added the Saffron Infused Pasta to the pot of boiling salted water. (Fresh pasta only takes 2-4 minutes to cook). Next, I added heavy cream to the wine/broth/saffron mixture and stirred to incorporate.
I drained the Saffron Infused Pasta and placed individual amounts on each person's plate, topped with a little butter, freshly grated parmesan cheese and freshly chopped Italian Parsley. I then poured the Saffron Cream Sauce over the cooked chicken breasts.
Both my husband and youngest daughter were pretty much looking over my shoulders by this time. The aroma from the saffron was unlike anything they've experienced emanating from my kitchen before and they were more than just a little curious and anxious to taste the end product.
I don' even know how to describe this meal. While it had very familiar elements, the flavour was unlike anything I've ever eaten before. It was earthy, fragrant and intoxicating. I was gettng a little concerned that everyone was being just a little too quiet while we ate - our usual dinnetime banter about things like Mackenzie's most recent pre-teen idol, Shawn Mendes, had turned into complete silence. Naturally, my impatience got the best of me and I asked, 'So, how is it? What do you think?". My daughter, briefly looked up and gave me the thumbs up and then continued devouring the food in front of her. so I turned to Stephen for some validation.
His response was, "It's really, really, really yummy Kimmy. I really love it. It's right up there with my favorite things that you've cooked." Woohoo!! Success was mine!! Saffron might cost more than a bottle of dried oregano, but for the little amount you need per recipe, it's well worth it!
Very little oil was used in this recipe and the salt content, in my opinion, is negligble. The only thing I might tweak the next time I make this, and trust me (and I most assuredly will be making it again), is changing out the heavy cream for something a little lighter, simply because it has very little impact on the flavour and is more a textural element.
Saffron Infused Pasta with Chicken Scallopini with Saffron Cream....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!!