Saffron Noodle Cake with Sautéed Peppers: worth raiding the reliquary.

There is a small jar in our pantry. Inside, much smaller than the small jar, is a dark envelope. The envelope holds a few shreds of something quite precious. It’s not the True Cross, it’s saffron. Saffron is expensive, and while we usually have it on hand (Gourmandistan must uphold its inventory, after all) we tend to think of it as something used only for special occasions. Deborah Madison’s Saffron Noodle Cake is making us reevaluate our stance on the special nature of saffron stigmata.

It started with a simple recipe for sautéed peppers, something Michelle has been making lately to take advantage of our lapsing farm share supplies. We’ve found the blend of onions, garlic and sweet and spicy peppers a great thing to have around as a condiment or quick omelet filling. (Steve has been working to better his omelet technique over the last week or so.)

When making another batch Michelle noticed the noodle cake recipe offered as a potential use, and decided it would make a nice home-cooked dinner along with some of Steve’s fresh-baked focaccia. (Steve has also been working on making a light, airy focaccia. Steve likes food projects.)

We didn’t use as much saffron as Madison called for (we only had about half of the requested pinch), but the sweet/earthy scent and flavor of the expensive spice still came forward through the nicely crusted egg, pasta and herb cake, even under a pile of sautéed peppers.  Like religion, saffron seems to work best in small doses, and now we’re seeing it work well in even smaller amounts. (If only the Southern Baptists would take some notes.) The power of saffron compels us—we’ll be making this cake again soon, possibly with some homemade saffron pasta. Gloria in excelsis saffron!


(adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)


  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • 4 oz. spaghetti
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4-5 scallions, including some green, finely sliced
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsley
  • 1 TB butter and/or olive oil

Warm olive oil in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small skillet.  Add saffron threads.  Set aside.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water.  When al dente, drain and rinse with cold water.  Shake dry.

In a bowl, combine pasta with salt and pepper, egg, cheese, scallions and parsley.  Mix well, using your hands.

Heat half of the butter and/or oil in a small 8″ skillet.  Add pasta mixture and pat it down with a spatula.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until bottom is golden brown.  Turn out onto a plate.  Add remaining butter and/or oil to the skillet.  Slide the cake back into the skillet, cooked side up.  Cook until second side is golden brown.  Turn out onto a clean plate and top with sautéed peppers.



  • 4 large bell peppers (or, better yet, an equivalent amount of assorted multicolored peppers, both hot and sweet)
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 TB tomato paste diluted in 1/4 c. water
  • Salt & pepper
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar

Slice peppers into thin strips, discarding seeds and cores.  Heat oil in a skillet.  Add onion and sauté over fairly high heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add pepper slices, stirring frequently.  After about 5 minutes, add garlic.  Cook for about 5 more minutes, continuing to stir frequently.  The peppers should be singed around the edges but not burned.  Add tomato paste and water mixture and reduce heat.  Cook for about 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper.  Splash on some balsamic vinegar and raise heat to glaze.


  1. I saw this title and immediately raced ahead to see if this was from the Deborah Madison cookbook. I made this several years ago! Lord knows why I remember given my first son was only a few months old, but I even remember it well enough to know that yours came out much more beautifully. I don’t use saffron much as it is quite strong, I think you’re right on the mark in your evaluation of it! So fun to read this post!

    • Given that Steve was in a religious mood when writing this, he should have mentioned that (even though we are decidedly NOT vegetarians—nor is she now, I gather) Deborah Madison is like our patron saint! I think that VCFE is my most-used cookbook. So many years on and I am still finding new things from it to make.

  2. Ok, I’m going to have to try this recipe from my favorite cookbook. I’ve been on a bit of a saffron kick lately so I’m stocked up to make this. And I’m also well stocked with sweet & spicy peppers (& I don’t know which are which), so thanks for that suggestion as well!

  3. Eha

    Something a little different and definitely ‘doable’! Was so infinitely lucky to win a BIG pouch of real Iranian saffron from ‘Family Spice’ some time ago: I know another ‘half-yearly’ is coming up – the blog is SO useful, friendly and fun: why not wander on . . .?

  4. Oh, yum. This looks beautiful, too. I have both of you to thank for my introduction (in the form of the book) to Deborah M. I am going to make those peppers this week…and work my way up to noodle-cakeage soon.

    • I know I’ve said it before many times, but I do love that cookbook. Often we add more garlic, more onion, etc., but it’s a great departure point for so many recipes I’d never have thought of. Report back!

      • After reading your post and thinking of Deborah, I decided to make her recipe for apple crisp since we had a lot of apples. Delicious. I have the leftovers for breakfast.

  5. just stunning.. I gasped when i saw that. Chica sent me some saffron a while ago and it is begging for a divine little dish like this. I think i can do this! thank you.. oh and the foccacia.. recipe coming soon? or did i miss that?!

    • I think “fancy drunk food” is one of my favorite food groups! It’s funny that nobody said it, but it reminds me of supposedly Chinese (I have no idea if authentic or not) noodle pancakes like Barbara Tropp used to make way back when at China Moon Café. Though, obviously, the saffron takes it in a different direction.

  6. I am half Persian and am lucky enough to have a never-ending supply of Iranian saffron. If only I could say the same about more practical expensive items…or plain ol’ cash. Anyhow, I’m reading this late, but it sounds so delicious! I would love that golden-brown crust. And it’s incredibly photogenic.

  7. Pingback: On the Tasting Menu: Saffron « Sheila Squillante

  8. One of my all time favorite vegetarian cookbooks! I have to confess I’ve passed on making this recipe for years thanks to my own conservative use of saffron (which I happen to adore:-). Thanks to you guys, I’m finally going to make this dish!!

  9. Michelle and Steve – How CREATIVE. Who knew vegetarian food was this AMAZING? I will try this, for certain. You sort of had me at saffron and sauteéd pepper, to be frank. I am quite intrigued by this “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” cookbook. It sounds like a winner. Be well – Shanna

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