Saffron Lasagna ~ Lasagna alla Zafferano from A Family Farm in Tuscany

As an Italian-American, I’ve eaten plenty of lasagna in my day. But none like this. I’m used to layers of noodles and sauce that are cemented with mounds of cheese. This authentic Italian lasagna, however, relies primarily on a saffron-hued béchamel sauce to act as the glue. There’s no mozzarella, no ricotta. Just grated Parmesan, meat sauce, and a luscious besciamella made with butter, flour, milk and saffron. It’s as decadent and comforting as any lasagna you’ll encounter, and the addition of saffron makes it special enough for any holiday or occasion.

Lasagna alla Zatterano ~ Saffron Lasagna

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The recipe comes from a delightful new book, A Family Farm in Tuscany: Recipes and Stories from Fattoria Poggio Alloro (Shearer Publishing, 2012) by Sarah Fioroni. Part memoir and part cookbook, A Family Farm in Tuscany tells the intensely personal story of one Italian family and their journey from tenant farmers to landowners.

A Family Farm in Tuscany by Sarah Fiorini

The book is broken into months, and each chapter is a seasonal look at what life is like on the farm during that time of year. In January, for example, though “the fields are at rest” it’s the season to butcher pigs, which is a three day process. Anecdotes that manage to be simultaneously mundane and lively fill the pages, so the reader gets a sense of what it is really like to live and work at Fattoria Poggio Alloro.

Fattoria Poggio Alloro
Fattoria Poggio Alloro ~ Photo by Oriano Stefan

Besides the stories, family recipes are interspersed throughout the book as well. Rosa’s rice fritters, crostini with mozzarella and sausage, tiramisu, torta della nonna, fresh pasta, panna cotta, faro salad and more – it’s all enough to make me want to pack my bags and head straight for Tuscany. I mean, just look at it! Could life get any better?

Lasagna alla Zatterano ~ Saffron Lasagna

Selecting a recipe to post was, of course a challenge simply because they all looked so enticing. But I finally settled on this saffron lasagna because it is at once so similar and so different from anything I’ve ever had. It takes a little time to slowly simmer the meat sauce (which is as perfect as meat sauce gets and would also be excellent served simply with pasta) and to make the béchamel, which turns a bright and vibrant yellow from the saffron (seriously check out that color! I swear I didn’t touch the saturation, that’s all natural). But it’s well worth the time spent and dishes dirtied. It’s one gorgeous lasagna.

Lasagna alla Zatterano ~ Saffron Lasagna

As Fiorini points out, while béchamel is known to be French, “according to recent research, besciamella may have already been in use in Tuscany as salsa colla (“glue sauce”) and imported to France by Catherine de’Medici.” Who knew? This elegant lasagna is included in the Fiorini Family’s decadent Easter menu along with antipasti and crostini, roasted lamb, beef tenderloin, and much more. Now there’s a celebration!

Lasagna alla Zatterano ~ Saffron Lasagna

5.0 from 4 reviews
Saffron Lasagna ~ Lasagna alla Zafferano
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This elegant and comforting saffron lasagna is like none other. Luscious, vibrant saffron besciamella, rich meat sauce and parmesan are layered between noodles for one seriously amazing meal. Use the meat sauce recipe on its own with pasta.
Recipe Type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Ragu alla Poggio Alloro ~ Poggio Alloro Beef Ragu Sauce: (makes about 8 cups)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 carrots, cut into small dice
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into small dice
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into small dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds (0.90 kg) lean ground beef
  • 6 cups (1360 g) tomato sauce, preferably made from San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2½ teaspoons (14 g) sea salt
Saffron Besciamella:
  • 5 cups (1.2 L) whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon (0.25 g) saffron threads
  • 5 tablespoons (75 g) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup (75 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ teaspoons (7 g) sea salt
To Assemble and serve:
  • 3 (8-ounce) (225 g) packages oven-ready lasagne pasta
  • Grated parmesan cheese
For the Ragu alla Poggio Alloro:
  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, 6-quart (6 L) saucepan over medium heat. Add the vegetables and garlic; cook until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
  2. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring often to break up clumps, until meat is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. (The meat should be in small particles.)
  3. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook for an additional 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove sauce from heat and use as desired (any leftover sauce can be frozen for future use).
For the Saffron Besciamella:
  1. Heat the milk and saffron in a heavy-bottomed, 3-quart (3 L) saucepan over medium heat until just moderately warm; set aside and keep warm.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart (4 L) saucepan over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add the flour and stir to blend well. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until flour is cooked but not browned.
  3. Slowly add the warm milk and saffron mixture, whisking to blend thoroughly.
  4. Bring to a full boil, whisking constantly, and cook until thickened and silky smooth, about 15 minutes.
  5. Add sea salt. Remove from the heat and set aside. Cool to room temperature. (Any leftover sauce can be frozen for future use.)
To Assemble and serve:
  1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C).
  2. Spoon about ½ cup (120 ml) of the besciamella into a 13 x 9-inch (33 x 23 cm) baking dish, spreading it to cover the bottom. Then spoon ½ cup (120 ml) of the Poggio Alloro beef ragu sauce on top of it. Swirl the sauces together to blend slightly. Scatter about 2 tablespoons (25 g) grated Parmesan cheese over the combined sauces.
  3. Arrange a single layer of the lasagna noodles on top of the sauce mixture, covering the entire dish (you can cut the pasta to fit the pan).
  4. Continue layering portions of the besciamella, beef ragu sauce, pasta, and cheese until the pan is full, ending in a layer of cheese.
  5. Bake the lasagna in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and bubbly. Cut into squares and serve hot.

Get the book: A Family Farm in Tuscany: Recipes and Stories from Fattoria Poggio Alloro (Shearer Publishing, 2012) by Sarah Fioroni and check out the Fattoria Poggio Alloro website for more. Read more about the farm here as well.

To check out other recipes from and posts about the book, head over to the world tour blog hop at Cooking with Chopin, Living with Elmo and check it out below!

{Disclaimer: I received a complimentary review copy of the book, but the opinions expressed are entirely my own.}

18 thoughts on “Saffron Lasagna ~ Lasagna alla Zafferano from A Family Farm in Tuscany

  1. Ginny

    Katherine, this is just lovely!! I haven’t made the lasagna yet, and now I simply cannot wait to! Just the saffron bechamel *alone* is so incredibly lovely and enticing.

    Thank you for reviewing the book. I think a large handful of food bloggers are making an imaginary exodus to Sarah’s farm this week. I know I am!

    Thanks again,

  2. Caneel

    I’m so glad you chose to make this one – it’s one I’m looking forward to attempting and I was hoping someone else would before me! It looks gorgeous, and delicious!

  3. thyme (Sarah)

    I love lasagna. Yours looks delicious. How fun that the blog hop is going all the way Israel! I’ve seen these “blog hops” but really only understand what they are about with this one. For Christmas, I will be feeding (at least) 14 people. My mind is racing with menu ideas. I really should do a lasanga!

  4. Sarah Fioroni

    Katherine you made a perfect Lasagna!!! I loved the way you show every step.I would like to taste it right now!I’m glad you liked!

  5. Eha

    Shall we overlook that the gorgeous dish is too rich by half and celebrate the saffron in the offering! This looks absolutely unctious . . . shall try!

  6. Veronica

    It’s just beautiful! This was one I considered for the blog tour as well but I also had lofty ideas of using the homemade pasta recipe for the noodles and I got overwhelmed in the end and went for another dish (no regrets though, it was wonderful!). I’m now convinced I must try this, even if I don’t make my own noodles first. It’s just so pretty.

  7. kitchenriffs

    Sounds like a terrific book. I’ve had lasagna with béchamel with no cheese except for some Parmesan sprinkled on top, but never with saffron. Sounds wonderful! I’ve always suspected that the Italian-American lasagna that’s so rich with ricotta and mozzarella developed in part because these were abundant and relatively inexpensive, and in part because using cheese was en easy substitute for making béchamel. I should read up on that someday. Anyway, really nice post – thank you.

  8. Kashmir kesar

    I’m so glad you choose to make this one – it’s one I’m looking forward to attempting and I was hoping someone else would before me! It looks gorgeous, and delicious!

  9. Kim Bee

    Katherine this is fabulous. I made this too but posted something else for the tour. Isn’t it wonderful?! I love how unique this one is. And your photos are fabulous as always.

  10. Stacy

    That is one gorgeous lasagna! The Brits tend to make it with only a bechamel instead of cheese for the white layer. I remember being most surprised the first time I travel there and ordered lasagna. Interesting to think that theirs may be closer to the original recipe, at least in Tuscany. The saffron is a beautiful addition!

  11. miss saffron

    That is really great – when I first read saffron lasagna I thought you were using saffron lasagna sheets not saffron in the bechamal sauce. The colour is amazing ! What type of saffron do you use ?

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