Saffron risotto with Gaeta mussels

Saffron risotto with Gaeta mussels: There was once a time when I wouldn’t think of attempting a risotto since frozen alternatives with the words ‘made in Italy’ on them seemed a safer bet. However, now that we live in Italy, and with the onset of winter, I thought it was about time to tough it out and give it a go. I’ve actually be practicing the art of whipping up a risotto for a few weeks now and have discovered that it’s a matter of technique and time.

Expect to set aside up to 20 – 30 minutes of your life when making risotto. That really isn’t as bad as it sounds. To put it another way, in the time it takes to make mashed potato, you could have yourself a plate of Italian comfort food.

The mussels in these recipe were gathered by Enzo. Plucked from the Tyrrhenian Sea between Gaeta and Formia, Italy, Gaeta mussels are renowned all over Italy for being the very best quality. We were very lucky to live nearby and be able to go to the waters edge to gather them freshly everyday while they were in season.

Mussel Man enters the sea

Saffron Risotto with Gaeta Mussels
Serves 4 – 8 (or 1.5 Enzo’s)

  • 2 tablespoons Vallecorsa extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 oz (50 grams) pancetta (or bacon), diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Pasta Nostra sun dried tomato and olive tapenade
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 250 ml (8 fl oz / 1 cup) dry white wine
  • 1 level teaspoon ground bay leaves
  • 1 mushroom stock cube
  • 1/2 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped or 1 pinch chilli flakes
  • 1 oz butter
  • 1 pinch saffron strands
  • 1 level teaspoon turmeric
  • 250 grams (1 cup / 8 oz) arborio rice
  • 250 – 500 ml (8 – 16 fl oz / 1 – 2 cups) of water, as needed
  • 250 grams (8 oz / 1 cup) pre-cooked cooked mussels, in or out of their shells
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 50 grams (2 oz / 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 50 grams (2 oz / 1/2 cup) sweetcorn


  1. Start with a deep frying pan with the oil and pancetta and cook it over a low to medium heat until the pancetta begins to crisp.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, fennel, rosemary, tapenade and salt then continue cooking and stirring over a gently until the vegetables are softened and the onions are beginning to caramelise and turn brown at the edges.
  3. Add the wine, stock cube, chilli, butter, saffron and turmeric then continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by at least half and the sauce begins to thicken.Add the rice and stir it in well.
  4. Continue cooking over a low heat, stirring continuously.
  5. Taste the sauce and check the seasoning now because all of these flavours will be absorbed into the rice so you want it to taste good!
  6. As the fluid is absorbed, keep everything moving to avoid it sticking to the bottom where it will burn.
  7. When you can drag a spoon through the rice and see the bottom of the pan clearly, add about 4 fl oz of water and stir in.
  8. Keep stirring, allowing the fluid to absorb, then add a little more water until the rice is al-dente and you can run a spoon through it and see the bottom of the pan.
  9. Now add the peas, sweetcorn, mussels and parsley stirring for up to 1 minute until it is well mixed.
  10. Place a tightly fitting lid onto the pan, turn off the heat and leave it there for 5 – 10 minutes as it steams itself into a delicious frenzy!

Let’s just recap and take a few notes because there are some rules to achieving a good risotto regardless of what you flavour it with:

  • First of all the trick to risotto is patients.
  • Taste test once you have added the rice and adjust your seasoning accordingly
  • Always keep it moving to avoid the rice burning.
  • Wait until all the fluid has been absorbed before adding more.
  • Once your rice is al-dente and you can see the bottom of the pan you are almost done!
  • Make sure you turn off the heat before putting the lid on it.
  • Your risotto will be ready to serve in about 5 to 10 minutes.
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