Saffron is produced in a particular area of the province of Aquila, the area including the municipalities of Navelli, Civitaretenga, Camporciano, San Pio delle Camere and Prata Valtidonia. A precious gastronomic resource, the saffron produce in Abruzzi is almost completely exported: the chefs of the region use it in a very simple way and it is not by chance that the well known risotto is Milanese. The powdered version is in commerce, sold in small packets at a reasonable price, but the real, pure saffron should have the characteristic strands. It is, in fact, simply the stimma, that is, the end part of the pistil of a flower, dried and powdered. This flower, the Crocus sativus, which is not to be found everywhere. Its harvest requires hard work and also care: the country women from the Navelli plains learn from a young age how to bend over the lines of small plants and how to cut off the corollas with their fingernails and place them into the baskets. At home, the work is completed by chopping off the stimmi with surgical precision, taking care not to scatter the precious substance and to not ‘pollute’ it with the white filaments which would diminish the quality of the harvest. Over the last decades, the area cultivated with saffron has been irreparably reduced: the four hundred hectares of one hundred years ago are today only eight, resulting in opening up new spaces to the product which comes from Iran and Turkey which is a less prized product but is more reasonably priced.
The connoisseurs of the spice which has no equals, and which also provides the colour yellow to painters, are left wondering how the Crocus sativus found its place in this corner of the Abruzzi. It was the Dominican friar Santucci who brought the bulbs to Navelli, his place of birth. He had brought them from Spain where his eminent appointment as part of the Inquisition had taken him, and where the civilisation of saffron, together with the rich Arab-Andalusian culture, had been introduced by the Moors.
Saffron is the indispensable main ingredient of Milanese style risotto, but is widely used in many other dishes. It is, for example, the characteristic element of the «brodetto di pesce» (fish soup) of the Adriatic which, south of Monte Conero, abandons the use of tomato and takes its colour and fragrance from saffron.