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Saffron and the Montalcino recipe for tripe

Saffron and the Montalcino recipe for tripe

To pick a kilogram of saffron you need 150 thousand flowers. In medieval times it was used instead of gold and today it is used in the kitchens of the greatest chefs, but in Montalcino it is the main ingredient in the recipe for tripe


Arnolfo-ColleDiValD’Elsa-risotto with lemon, blue lobster saffron

By Donatella Cinelli Colombini

The name comes from Persia, Zaafran , and in fact it comes from Asia and the southern coast of the Mediterranean, even though, for many centuries it has also been cultivated in Marche, Abruzzi, Sardinia, Umbria, Toscana and Basilicata.

It is the most valuable of spices.

Around this flower there is a legend:  Homer writes that saffron was a comfortable bed for Zeus, the old Romans used the flowers to cover the roads before the passage of prices and emperors.

It was also used for ministers’ headdresses for ceremonies, and for dyeing their robes.


For this reason too, apart from the quotations by Pliny and Ovid we are sure that the Romans knew of saffron, but its cultivation then was lost and began again in L’Aquila thanks to the Dominican Padre Santucci who imported it secretly from Spain.


Saffron is a crocus about 5 cm long from which generally three violet flowers with red stigmas. It loves dry climates and a sandy soil such as those in the Val d’Orcia dove where is has been grown since time immemorial.

The type that is most prestigious and desired by those who love good cuisine is the Crocus sativus which is sterile and reproduces only thanks to cloning.

It was selected in Crete by impassioned cultivators who were trying to better the production of stigmas.

In the winter saffron slows its vegetative activity and it begins again in March when the new bulbs form. In May the leaves dry out and the new bulbs begin to grow in size from June till September.

Then there is a vegetative stasis, therefore it is in this period the that bulbs are extracted from the soil, cleansed of the covering tunic, and replanted in a different field that must have already been prepared in spring with a plough and fertilized with manure.

Furthermore rows that are about 30 cm deep are dug out where the bulbs are positioned and covered, so that the cycle can begin again with more plants. The saffron sprouts in September and begins to flower in October.

Finally this is the moment where the stigmas are picked, this is done early morning or at sunset when the flowers shut, this is done by hand. Once picked the stigmas are dried and reduced to powder.


Saffron has some enemies, mice, porcupines and wild boars, who, really love them and without fencing they eat all of the bulbs.

Also,though ,too much saffron is very dangerous and can induce a miscarriage, or even cause death. In small doses it is beneficial and reduces the damage caused by free radicals thanks to the carotenoids that it contains.

Many believe that saffron has an aphrodisiac effect: this is due to a legend that says that the love between the mortal Krokos and  Smilax the nymph was opposed by the gods who consequently transformed her into a sarsaparilla plant and him into a crocus flower, so the two lovers remained bound together forever.


Certainly the most famous recipe with saffron is the Milanese risotto but here today I would like to teach you a most noteworthy recipe from Montalcino: tripe with saffron. This is a poor dish but still present in the local tradition that my Montalcino quartiere, Travaglio (Montalcino is divided into 4 neighbourhoods) celebrates with saffron tripe the end of Mardi gras and the beginning of Lent.


500 gr of veal tripe, a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, one onion, 2 sticks of celery, 3 cloves, 10 black pepper grains , a pork hoof, 2 garlic cloves, one peperoncino, extra virgin olive oil, half a litre of meat stock, a pinch of saffron, 50 gr of grated pecorino or Parmigiano cheese, salt and pepper.

First of all keep the tripe soaking in cold water with a little bicarbonate of soda and change the water several times a day. Boil the tripe in a pan together with onion, celery, cloves, pepper grains and lat.

The tripe is cooked when it is fork tender.  At the same time boil the pork hoof in water with the same additions.

Brown the garlic cloves and peperoncino in extra virgin olive oil; add the tripe cut into strips. Stir fry and then lower the flame, add salt, pepper and the warm stock where the saffron has been diluted.

Finally add the hoof, melted in its liquid and continue to cook slowly for about one hour. Serve well hot and dust with grated pecorino as is tradition, or as is trendier with Parmigiano.







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