Saffron Pasta
45 Min

Saffron Pasta

In India, there is a saying that goes something like this: On every grain of food is written the name of the person destined to eat it.

During an intense period of cooking and photographing food this summer and not knowing what to do with some of it, one afternoon I offered to take a few things over to restaurant regulars Joe and Julie Mashburn, who live near me.

Joe Mashburn, the long-standing dean of architecture at the University of Houston, had recently gotten a diagnosis of late-stage cancer, and we all knew he had just months, if not weeks, to live. Joe had decided to forgo treatment, instead choosing to spend his final weeks enjoying life in any way he could. He had a voracious appetite, and food seemed to delight him to no end.

This went on for a few weeks as my cooking marathon continued until one day, I dropped off a creamy saffron pasta that I had been experimenting with. Joe enjoyed every bit of it, but his energy was waning. It would be his last meal.

Now every time I cook pasta with saffron, I think of Joe Mashburn and feel incredibly grateful that I was able to bring a little bit of culinary joy into his life.

The pasta is decadent, to say the least, and the saffron flavor takes time to build — so do soak the saffron in cream a day or two before for best results. Rather than buying saffron in tiny portions, I suggest investing in 1/2 or 1 ounce of saffron from a good source such as a Middle Eastern or Indian grocer. There are so many ways to enjoy saffron — add it to rice pilaf or yogurt. Add it to a curry or a stew. Or make a morning tisane by pouring boiling water over a pinch of saffron threads, a stick of cinnamon and a few sprigs of mint or basil. Let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes before drinking.

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Cook Time

45 Minutes



Step 1
Soak the saffron threads in heavy cream and refrigerate overnight.
Step 2
The next day, cook the pasta according to instructions. Drain and set aside.
Step 3
In a large sauté pan, on high heat warm the olive oil and pop the fennel seeds. Immediately add the minced onions and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until they are translucent or golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Step 4
Add the garlic, turmeric, black pepper, and salt. Almost immediately after, add the heavy cream and bring it to a boil.
Step 5
Add 1/2 cup of water to the mixture and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the drained pasta and turn the heat off. Let the pasta rest in the creamy mixture for 10 to 12 minutes.
Step 6
To serve, fold in the two kinds of cheese and top the pasta with Calabrian chiles in oil.
2 cups heavy cream
Generous pinch of saffron
1 pound fresh pasta, preferably Radiatore
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
1 cup minced onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup shaved Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons minced red Calabrian chiles in oil

Notes & Variations

  • We recommend using Fabio’s fresh pasta, fusilli, penne, or Radiatore for this recipe.
  • We used Divina chopped Calabrian chiles.
  • To add shrimp to this recipe, add 1 pound peeled and deveined raw shrimp to the simmering creamy saffron mixture towards the end, depending on the size of the shrimp.
45 Min

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