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Jun 5, 2022

Saffron Risotto with Sausage

This saffron risotto with sausage is a delicious take on the traditional dish from the canton of Ticino, in the Italian part of Switzerland. 

Saffron Risotto with Sausage bowls.

While risotto is thought of as a traditional northern Italian dish, it also has deep roots in Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, which is from where my grandmother emigrated to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. 

The risotto in this dish is very similar to risotto Milanese, with arborio rice cooked with butter, white wine, onion, garlic, broth, cheese, and saffron. One of the differences is the cheese. The cheese in Ticinese risotto is Sbrinz, often called "Europe's oldest cheese." 

It's a cheese made with raw cow's milk and it is aged for three years in a very specific region of Switzerland. It is a very hard cheese with a crysalline texture and a buttery flavor. 

In Ticino, this risotto is served with spicy pork sausage, borrowing from the German part of Switzerland, and distinguishing the dish from its Milanese cousin. 

The traditional raw Italian sausage normally used in this risotto is called luganighe or luganega. 

Finally, the saffron must be grown in the Valais in Switzerland. It's nickname is "red gold," for it's amazing color. 

Saffron Risotto with Sausage in a large bowl.

Ingredients and Substitutions in this Saffron Risotto with Sausage: 

You will need arborio rice, which is a fat, short-grained rice, originally grown in Italy. There are now varieties grown in the United States, including Texas and California. It's a really starchy rice, which adds to the creaminess of the final dish. 

You will also need a broth, either vegetable, chicken, beef, or veal, veal being the most prevalent. I used a combination of chicken and beef broth and loved the results. 

For the dry white wine, I used a sauvignon blanc, but I'm pretty sure a quality white wine would be just fine. 

For the onion, I used a large red onion, which I happened to have on hand. I'm sure a brown, yellow, or white onion would also be fine. 

For the saffron, rather than obtaining the saffron from the Valais, I used some saffron that a friend gifted me from her travels to the Middle East. 

Sbrinz cheese is not readily available outside of specialty cheese shops, so I combined grated Gruyère, which is also an aged raw cow's milk made in Switzerland, and Romano cheese. You can also use Parmesan. You can vary the amount of cheese you use. I incorporated 60 grams of cheese in a 50/50 mix, but you can double that amount. 

You will also need butter, salt, and pepper. 

Finally, for the luganighe (raw pork sausage), I used spicy Italian sausage. 

Saffron Risotto with Sausage in serving bowls.

Tips for Making this Saffron Risotto with Sausage:

This risotto isn't actually that hard to make as risotto is rumored to be. Yes, there is some stirring, but it's not as constant as you might think. You mostly have to keep an eye on the pan to watch as the liquid has been absorbed and you need to add more. 

This recipe provides you just the right amount of liquid that you will need to achieve a creamy yet al dente rice dish. 

You can cook the sausage however you like. I parboiled the sausage in 1/2 inch of water in a skillet and then browned it after the water evaporated until the sausage reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. 

You have a couple of options for incorporating the sausage into the rice. You can cook the sausage first, set it aside, and stir it into the risotto once it finished. You could also keep them separate and top the rice with sausage pieces when serving. 

Saffron Risotto with Sausage in individual bowls.

Ticino is Switzerland's southern most canton, and it's the only one where Italian is the official language. I have roots to this region from my grandmother, who came to California from Switzerland at the age of 12. If you'd like to see photos and read more about her life, be sure to check out my post about Ticinese minestrone

She was a character. One of these days I might actually attempt to make stewed rabbit (the only Italian Swiss dish she used to make for us) in her honor. 

Saffron Risotto with Sausage in a serving bowl.

As much as I have raved about making risotto in the Instant Pot, this risotto is probably my new favorite. I wish I could figure out what it is about this recipe. The red onion? The savignon blanc? The combination of gruyère and Romano cheese?

There was so much umami in this risotto. I couldn't stop eating it. My guess is that maybe the combination of the chicken and beef broths might be the secret sauce. Whatever it is, this risotto is sooooo delicious. 

P.S. You can also make it ahead and reheat it. It's not as gorgeously creamy looking as it is right out of the pot, but it's just as tasty... which means, leftovers are amazing too!

Plus, you can stir them into omelettes, toss them with pizza sauce, or add them to burritos with any leftover sausage pieces. 

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Saffron Risotto with Sausage in a bowl.

Saffron Risotto with Sausage

Saffron Risotto with Sausage
Yield: 6 servings
Author: Karen's Kitchen Stories
Prep time: 15 MinCook time: 30 MinTotal time: 45 Min
This saffron risotto with sausage is a delicious take on the traditional dish from the canton of Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland.


  • 25 grams (scant 2 tablespoons) butter
  • 25 grams (scant 2 tablespoons) olive oil
  • 1 red onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 250 grams (about 1 1/4 cups) risotto
  • 200 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 800 grams (3 1/3 cups) stock (50/50 mixture of beef and chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, pulverized in a mortar and pestle
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 25 grams freshly grated Gruyère cheese
  • 25 grams freshly grated Romano cheese
  • 340 grams (12 ounces) hot Italian sausage, cooked and sliced


  1. Heat the butter and oil in a 3-quart heavy bottomed non-stick sauce pan and add the butter and olive oil.
  2. Add the onions and cook, stirring ocassionally, until translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for about a minute.
  3. Add the arborio rice and cook over medium low heat, stirring until the rice is translucent, about five minutes.
  4. Add the wine, the bay leaf, and the sage. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring ocassionally until all of the wine has been absorbed.
  5. Add enough of the broth until the rice is just covered and bring to a boil. Add the saffron and reduce the heat and simmer until the broth has been absorbed. Repeat with the rest of the broth in about 3 stages until completely absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 20 minutes total.
  6. Remove the bay leaf and sage sprig and add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.
  8. Serve with the sausage slices on top.

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Would you like to comment?

  1. I adore risotto and this looks incredible. I love the color and the delicious sausage on top. I also really like the cheese combo that you used!

  2. What a hearty and flavorful risotto! This may just get me past my feat of risotto!

  3. When do you add the saffron? I’m not seeing that instruction

    1. Ooops. After the first addition of broth.


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