Sunday, August 15, 2021

All about Saffron and Saffron Scented Fennel & Chickpea Stew Recipe

Like so many people, when I’ve traveled to Spain, I’ve come back with packages of saffron. But recently I met Negar Ajayebi, whose company Baron Saffron is importing the most exquisite organic Persian saffron. The color is incredibly vibrant and the aroma intense and complex. Frankly, it was way better than anything I ever had before. I spoke with Ajayebi to learn more about this exquisite spice and how to use it. 

How did you get into the saffron business?
It was a hobby as we cook every day and we use saffron a lot. Persian people grow up with saffron. We came from a culture where daily cooking is the primary job of every family, and saffron is an important ingredient. The best saffron in the world grows in the Persian plateau, and we like to introduce it to people worldwide.

What is something that most Americans don't know about saffron?

Most Americans use the threads to add taste, but the point is that you should grind the threads and brew them! It has so many health benefits as well. The use of saffron as a medicinal plant dates back to ancient times, with its reported therapeutic applications ranging from complaints of the eye, skin, respiratory, digestive, and genitourinary tracts, to mood disorders and as a general tonic.

What makes Persian saffron so special compared to saffron from other countries?

Saffron, like other flowers, needs a unique climate to grow up well. The geographical parameters in the great Khorasan (the eastern part of Iran and western part of Afghanistan), aka soil, water, and temperature, make it the best place to grow up saffron. This flower needs too much attention, which means a lot of labor costs. So economical parameter is another issue.

Can you explain the lab testing of saffron and grading?

The standard test for saffron is ISO 3632-2, which clarifies the three characteristics' saffron sample:

 • Safranal: This index represents the smell of saffron. The high-quality saffron scores over 40

 • Crocin: This shows the color of saffron. Pure and fresh saffron gets over a score of 250

 • Picocrocin: This demonstrates the flavor of saffron. If the test has over 80, you can trust it

I think a lot of people like me buy it and use it infrequently. How important is it for saffron to be fresh?

The fresher, the better! Keeping saffron in a dry and nearly cold place is a must. It should be kept dry and in a closed lid container.

How do you use saffron, and how much is typically needed per recipe?

The best way to use saffron is to brew it. Brewing the saffron releases the most aroma and color, and taste. To have a better result, we usually grind the saffron's threads. It practically helps to release its flavor and aroma three times more! The amount of saffron used in the recipes depends on how much you want the taste to be strong and how much you believe in saffron!

You recommend grinding the saffron and brewing it with ice at room temperature. Why is that?

It's a traditional way we learned from our ancestors, and that's because we believe precisely like coffee, cold brewing draws the most aroma and color and tastes out of saffron. 

SPECIAL OFFER: If you’d like to purchase saffron, Baron Saffron is offering free shipping with the code cookingwithamy. I hope you’ll try this truly exquisite saffron and let me know how you use it in the comments. I can personally attest a very little bit goes a long way. Thanks Negar!

Saffron Scented Chickpea and Fennel Stew

Serves 4


2 heads of fennel, chopped, (save the core)

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped (save the peel and scraps)

1 yellow pepper or 5 mini peppers, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced 

1 can or 1 1/2 cups of cooked chickpeas

1/2 cup orange juice 

1 cup of fennel onion broth

1 can of cherry tomatoes (15 ounces)

Pinch of saffron 


In a small saucepan combine the reserved fennel core and onion scraps. Cover with water and simmer to make a broth. Meanwhile, heat a soup pot and add the oil. Gently fry the onion, fennel, and peppers until soft and beginning to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. 

Add the chickpeas, orange juice, about a cup of the fennel onion broth, the cherry tomatoes and their liquid, and a pinch of saffron. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thick and fragrant. Season to taste with salt. Serve with bulgar or rice. 


Monday, June 14, 2021

News & Ways to Stay in Touch

Last year I became the editor of chief of two sites, the Cheese Professor and the Alcohol Professor. On each site you will find three new stories a week. There is also a weekly newsletter. Needless to say, I have not been blogging here as much as I did in the past. But there are still ways to keep in touch! 

My old email subscription service Feedburner was discontinued, but you can sign up with and then choose how you would like to be notified of new posts--in a feed, a direct email or otherwise. Simply click on this link to sign up (or the "subscriber now" link in the side bar). 

I do hope you will take a look at both the Cheese Professor and the Alcohol Professor and consider signing up for the weekly newsletters as well. I write the newsletters and also contribute to both sites. Check out the past newsletters for Cheese Professor and the past newsletters for Alcohol Professor to subscribe.

As always, you can find pretty much all the stories I've written personally here

Wishing you all things cheesy, boozy or otherwise delicious,


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina Recipe & Contest

Just as Margherita pizza is symbolic of Naples, gnocchi alla Sorrentina is emblematic of Sorrento. Like the Margherita, it features the colors of the Italian flag thanks to tomato, mozzarella and basil.That trinity seems like the most classic of Italian ingredients, but is it? Basil is not native to the Mediterranean, it came to Italy from India via the spice routes.  Tomatoes came from the New World and didn't make their way to Italy until the 15th or 16th century, the same for potatoes, which are a key ingredient in gnocchi in many regions. I've read that potatoes were used because at one time the price of wheat was very high but I don't know if that's actually true or not. 

My recipe for gnocchi alla Sorrentina is incredibly simple, but like all Italian recipes, it relies on excellent quality ingredients. There are lots of recipes out there for gnocchi alla Sorrentina. While they all have potato gnocchi topped with a sauce made from tomatoes along with basil, Parmigiano Reggiano and mozzarella, they sauce recipes vary. Some sauce recipes use soffritto, a combination of carrots, celery and onion. Other recipes use onion. Some use tomato paste. But if you use Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP tomatoes all you need is olive oil and garlic. 

The reason you should use Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP tomatoes is twofold, the consistency of the product the taste. It's just ideal for making a quick and brightly flavored tomato sauce. You can make the gnocchi by hand or buy a brand you like, but the sauce must be made from scratch, the basil must be fragrant and the mozzarella must be soft and fresh. I have used other tomatoes in the past and had to rely on tomato paste to boost the flavor of tomato sauces, but not anymore. Grown and picked exclusively for the can in the volcanic-rich soil of Mt. Vesuvius. They have a special red and yellow PDO label issued by the European Union that ensures they are the real deal. 

Now that we are finally getting out of the house, I'm pleased to share a chance to win dinner courtesy of  #ILoveSanMarzanoDOP at a local restaurant valued at $250. Simply enter  I ❤ San Marzano DOP contest for a chance to win! Good luck or as we say in Italian, in bocca al lupo! 

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina 
Serves 4 as a starter of 2 as an entree

1 pound potato gnocchi, cooked
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 28 ounce can San Marzano DOP tomatoes
Two sprigs fresh basil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
6 ounces fresh mozzarella (not low moisture) diced


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a saucepan and add oil. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and cook it over medium heat until it begins to turn golden, then turn the heat off. Using your hands, squish the tomatoes into a pulp and add them along with the puree in the can to the saucepan. Turn the heat back on and cook the mixture for 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until it's the sauce is very thick. Add one sprig of basil, and turn off the heat. 

Combine the sauce and the gnocchi, and transfer to a casserole. Sprinkle with half of the Parmigiano Reggiano and all of the mozzarella. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese melts. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano and garnish with the second sprig of basil. 


Rules: You must be 18 + years old and live in the United States to win. Contest deadline is 11:59pm June 18, 2021.  21 Winners will be randomly selected and notified by phone.  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Truffle Hunters

I got to meet people in the truffle business a few years ago when I was the blogger for the Napa Truffle Festival. I even blogged about truffle dogs. I am not a big fan of dogs but fell head over heels in love with the adorable Lagotto Romangnolos. Affectionate, smart and energetic, they were irresistible. The award winning documentary The Truffle Hunters features not just truffle dogs, but the dog’s owners, and some truffle brokers. 

This delightful and quiet documentary transports you to Piemonte in Italy and takes you into the hidden world of the truffle hunters, both the men and their dogs. But it also shares the dark side of the business. The truffle business is notoriously shady. In some sections of the film you literally get a dog’s eye view of truffle hunting. But the real charm are the men themselves and their relationships with friends, clients and their undying love for their dogs. Like the film itself, they are quirky, eccentric, funny and intense. 

Truffles are all about scent, and this film not only conjures up the smell of precious white truffles, but is a banquet for all the senses—the sounds of nature, the damp chill of the forest, and the beauty of lives led in a way that is perhaps as precious and rare as truffles themselves. The film is now playing in select cities. Check Truffle Hunters website for more information.