The Critical Ingredient Ina Garten Swears By For Risotto

One of the best things about risotto is that it's the kind of dish that's easy to customize. If you're looking to use up the rest of your white wine, don't have any meat in the fridge, or are in the mood for a meal that isn't too hearty, risotto is a great option. As long as you have short grain rice and at minimum, butter, cheese, and salted water, you can make a delicious risotto.

According to Ina Garten, however, it's always worth it to go the extra mile with ingredients, even with something as simple as risotto. In an episode of "Barefoot Contessa" (via YouTube), the celebrity chef shared a one-pot risotto recipe that packs in tons of flavor. Fresh lump crab meat and peas are the main mix-ins, and in addition to Arborio rice and seafood stock, Garten seasons her risotto with fennel, poblano pepper, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, shallots, fresh chives, and lemon zest. There's also olive oil, butter, and crème fraîche, but by far the most important ingredient — aside from the rice itself — is a spice that Garten describes as "critical for risotto."

Ina Garten's recipe takes inspiration from risotto alla Milanese

Ina Garten's crab and pea risotto may stray from Italian tradition in terms of its flavor and combination of ingredients, but it does bear semblance to risotto alla Milanese, which means it isn't complete without saffron. Per Food & Wine, saffron is precisely what gives the classic risotto dish its distinct yellow color and rich flavor. Seafood risotto, on the other hand, normally doesn't call for saffron. That said, Garten swears that it's just as tasty of an addition.

"I don't know what it is about saffron, but I really miss it when it's not in risotto," she shared while making the recipe (via YouTube). "It's just got a heat, it's got this really subtle flavor, but it's really important. I love it, and it makes the risotto yellow, which is gorgeous." Per one and a half cups of rice, Garten only uses a half teaspoon of saffron threads, which she incorporates into the risotto two minutes before adding the rice. Then when the rice is cooked al dente and ready to serve, you'll end up with a risotto dish that tastes as good as it looks.