Montalcino is famous for its spectacular wines but did you know that there is also a red heart to Montalcino? Saffron! This red gold has been cultivated in the region around Montalcino since the Middle Ages with records going as far back as 1857. The beautiful crimson spice is cultivated from the crocus plant and involves handpicking the stigmas from each little flower. You need 120,000 to 150,000 flowers to make 1 kilogram of saffron!
I first met Massimo, the owner of Pura Crocus, a local supplier of saffron in the heart of Montalcino, in a shop in the village. His excitement over the products he is producing is contagious. His family started with a few pounds of bulbs that were passed down through the generation. On my trip to Montalcino in June, he invited me to visit his shop which is just a few minutes outside the walls of the village. As you enter the doors, the beautiful aroma of saffron wafts through the air. His shelves were stocked with gorgeous packages of his pure organic saffron along with saffron-laced honey, biscotti, tea and beer! His pride for what he is producing beams through – and his saffron and saffron-infused products are incredible. A true labor of love!
Massimo and his family harvest the plants between October and November but only in the early house of the morning as the flower must remain closed. On that same day, they select the most intensely colored part of the stigma and then they are spread on trays and dried. They then turn this spectacular red gold into his delicious array of products. On that visit, I left with armloads of his beautiful and delicious delicacies. We sat at home in Montalcino and munched on his saffron-biscotti while brewing up some of his magical saffron tea. We of course had to sample his really awesome saffron-laced beer. And tucked into my suitcase on the way home was a stash of his organic saffron waiting for its place in a few recipes.
Massimo shared with me a few of his family’s favorite recipes – one just perfect for the mid summer heat – saffron panna cotta. Now – I am a huge panna cotta fan especially in the summer. It is the *perfect* summer dessert – it is a combination of cream and milk and sugar – just a few delicious ingredients. The panna cotta comes together in less than 30 minutes and you make ahead and pop it in the fridge. His family recipe tops his panna cotta with blackberry jam; here I have subbed in an easy peach compote to take advantage of the delicious bounty of summer peaches. The saffron lightly infuses the panna cotta with its slightly earthy flavor – a beautiful balance to the sweetness of the panna cotta and the peach compote.
This recipe has been on repeat over the past few months with various toppings, from berries to figs to peaches. I know saffron can be a bit costly but highly recommend you giving this a try – such a unique treat. And stay tuned! I am working with Massimo to bring his products to Our Italian Table in the fall! 💃🏻
Buon estate e buon appetito!
Tanti baci xx
This saffron-infused panna cotta topped with sweet summer peach compote is the perfect and exotic summer dessert!
For the panna cotta:
- Neutral cooking oil
- 1 large pinch saffron threads, about 8–10
- ¼ cup warm water
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup full-fat milk
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
- ¼ cup cold water
For the peach compote:
- 4 ripe peaches, peeled and chopped
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- Juice of ½ lemon
Make the panna cotta:
1. Lightly oil 6 (6-ounce) ramekins or glasses that will hold the panna cotta.
2. Combine the saffron threads and warm water in a small bowl. Allow the saffron to bloom for about 15 minutes.
3. Combine the cream, milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Set the saucepan over medium heat and gently warm the mixture, whisking frequently, until sugar dissolves and bubbles begin to break the surface, about 5 minutes. Add in the saffron mixture. Stir and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat and cover.
4. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl. Stir and let rest for about 5 minutes to allow to bloom.
5. Put the cream mixture back on medium heat. Once bubbles start to appear, add in the bloomed gelatin. Stir until dissolved.
6. Distribute the panna cotta equally among the prepared ramekins. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill. Allow panna cotta to completely set, about 3-4 hours.
Make the peach compote:
7. Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottomed small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has broken down and the mixture starts to thicken slightly, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
8. To serve the panna cotta, remove from fridge and top with the peach compote. Serve!
To make ahead: Panna cotta and compote can be prepared, separately, up to 2 days in advance. Top with the compote just before serving.