This vibrant and luxurious pasta is just as ready to perk up a post-work weeknight as it is a date night—and in mere minutes, at that. Saffron is, of course, the star here, magically transforming pantry staples into glossy gold. The precious spice—now the world’s most expensive by weight, in part because of the intensive labor required to harvest it—once grew particularly wild and abundant in Sardinia. For centuries, this “red gold” was added to some of the region’s poorer water-based pastas to make it look like they contained eggs (which, until relatively recent centuries, were more expensive than saffron!). Semolina-based Sardinian gnocchi, or malloreddus, and the tiny chickpea-like ciciones are just a few of the pastas still infused with saffron.
Here, when paired with a bright white wine and a hint of heat, saffron’s sweet, floral flavor makes for a balanced and surprisingly light meal. In terms of the pasta, I tend to opt for fresh pappardelle or mezzelune filled with ricotta or squash, but any favorite dry or fresh pasta will work well. And since summer’s right around the corner, this dish is the perfect opportunity to enjoy dinner outside and open that really good bottle of white wine you’ve been saving. (Just save a splash for the sauce!)
—Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 15 minutes
- Serves 2
A generous pinch of saffron threads (about ½ teaspoon)
(80 ml) hot (but not boiling) water
(80 ml) dry white wine
(50 grams) cold unsalted butter, divided
(80 ml) heavy cream
(250 grams) pasta of choice (see headnote)
Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- In a small bowl (or with a mortar and pestle), gently crush the saffron threads between your fingers to break them up and release their flavor. Pour the hot water over the crushed threads and allow to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, start the sauce. Add the wine to a medium sauté pan or saucier. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the liquid reduces by half, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the butter, one piece at a time, stirring constantly to emulsify.
- Follow with the cream, as well as the saffron and its liquid and a good pinch of salt. Stir to combine and simmer briefly until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- When the water is boiling, salt it generously, then add the pasta and stir for a few seconds to prevent sticking. Cook according to the package directions or until al dente. If you’re using fresh pasta, cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, or to your liking.
- When the pasta is just shy of being done, return the sauce to medium heat. Transfer the pasta directly to the sauce with tongs or a slotted spoon, along with the final tablespoon of butter. Toss to coat until the butter has melted. Loosen the sauce with a small amount of pasta cooking water, if needed. Season with salt to taste.
- Divide the pasta among bowls and top with a sprinkling of Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes, if desired. Serve immediately.