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Tuscan saffron

There are several historical references to the production, trade and high regard for the saffron from the Florentine hills which was known and appreciated internationally as “Zima di Firenze”.  It was even adopted to determine value in the exchange of goods and was of course used as a spice in the preparation of food and dishes of great delicacy.  In the Middle Ages traders came from all over Europe to Florence in order to buy saffron from the surrounding countryside.  Saffron is obtained from the stigmas of the flowers of Crocus sativus L.

The plant was cultivated not only in the Elsa Valley most of which is now in the Province of Siena but also in the whole area which is the modern Province of Florence.  Its use was not limited to cooking but it was also used in the preparation of medicines and paints.  This is clear in documentary evidence from farm contracts, records of merchants’ dealings and the tariffs fixed in 1427 by the Tax Office for the valuation of the incomes from land owned by Florentine citizens.

For example, the statute of San Godenzo, land situated on the slopes of the Appenines, made provision in 1475 for possible damage by persons or animals to the saffron fields as well as to vines, vegetable cultivation, grain, fodder, chestnut woods and olive groves.  Documents still exist for the years between 1300 and 1348 with details of sales of saffron by about forty heads of families (there were ninety family groups of which about seventy were agricultural workers). These data lead us to believe that in the area of the Florentine hills the cultivation of this plant was of significant importance to the local population.

The bulbs are planted between 10th August and 15th September. They flower at the end of October and the blooms are hand-picked. The stigmas are removed and dried to preserve them. One kilo of saffron is obtained from 120,000 flowers.

Apart from the characteristic and unmistakable aroma, saffron is rich in carotenoids which are antioxidants and vitamins B1 and B2.


For 4 people

0.20 g saffron  filaments
250 g tagliatelle
8 shallots finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 knob butter
Black pepper
Parmesan cheese

In a cup prepare an infusion of the saffron with hot stock, at least an hour before using it.
In a large frying pan gently fry the shallots in 3 spoonfuls of oil. Pour on the saffron stock and reduce it slightly.  Add the knob of butter. In the meantime cook the pasta, drain it and add it to the saffron sauce in the pan. Sprinkle with black pepper, grated parmesan cheese and serve.

More about saffron in Tuscany.

Tuscan saffron
Harvesting saffron crocuses in Tuscany

Saffron biscuits and vin santo
Saffron biscuits and vin santo

Saffron threads on pasta
Saffron threads on saffron pasta

Saffron-flavoured local products
Saffron-flavoured local products

Saffron and saffron-flavoured local products are available directly from the growers at Corte di Valle at Greti, near Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, and at Agriturismo Felciano, near Panzano in Chianti, Tuscany.

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