I can think of nothing better on a cold, wintry day than a bowl of warm, comforting, creamy rice. Risotto sounds fancy and difficult, but it’s very simple and, I find, quite relaxing to cook. After sauteing onions until soft and mixing in the rice until well-coated with oil, you simply have to slowly and serenely stir the pan of grains, occasionally ladling in another veil of warm broth, until you find yourself with a pan of luscious, just-softened rice enveloped in a bath of velvety stock. And the entire thing can be achieved in under thirty minutes.
Risotto — My Base Recipe
(serves 4-6 as a main course)
Don’t forget to check out my Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions at the bottom of the recipe
- 5 1/2 cups broth/stock (vegetable, chicken, beef, seafood, whatever fits your recipe)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup finely minced onion
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- coarse salt, to taste
- Optional: 1 tbsp unsalted butter & 1/3 cup grated Parmesan (to add incredible richness at the end)
- Bring the broth to a simmer in a small pot and keep it warm.
- Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over moderate heat.
- Add the onion and saute for 1-2 minutes, until soft and translucent.
- Add the rice and toast, stirring, for about a minute, ensuring all the grains are well coated in the oil.
- Add the wine and cook, stirring slowly but constantly, until absorbed.
- Add about half a cup of broth, stirring slowly but frequently.
- Add a good pinch of salt and keep stirring slowly, but frequently.
- When it’s mostly absorbed, add another half cup of broth and repeat until the rice has finished cooking, about 18 minutes after the first ladle of broth.
- Continue to taste the risotto throughout cooking and add salt, as needed.
- If using butter and Parmesan, add them now, at the very end, and quickly mix them into the risotto. I don’t prefer adding them because I find the risotto too rich and their presence unnecessary.
- Ladle into soup bowls and serve.
If you aren’t going to be able to eat all of the risotto that night, but want to be able to have some later, only cook it to the half way point and then set aside some of the par-cooked risotto to finish off another time. Why? Grains never stop absorbing liquid. If you don’t eat the risotto right away, the rice will continue to absorb the broth, even while sitting in the refrigerator. The result is that leftover risotto is more like mushy rice. It’s still delicious, but if you want the same wonderful result as freshly made risotto, it’s as easy as pausing half way to set aside some for later. Here’s how:
- Have a sheet pan ready to pour the rice into for rapid cooling.
- Ten minutes into cooking the risotto, after having added about 3-4 ladles of broth, stop cooking and immediately pour/ladle half of the risotto mixture (or whatever amount you like) into the sheet pan.
- Immediately place the sheet pan in the refrigerator so that the rice cools down and stops cooking as quickly as possible.
- Resume cooking the remainder of the risotto, keeping in mind that you’ll end up using less stock than in the original recipe since the yield is now smaller. You may also want to add only a quarter of a cup of stock rather than half.
Cooking the Par-Cooked Risotto
- When ready to use the par-cooked risotto, simply place it in a pan with half a cup of warm stock.
- Warm over moderate heat.
- Once the stock is mostly absorbed and the mixture is warm, add a quarter cup more of stock and continue to cook as normal.
- This process will only take about 10-15 minutes (including time to warm up) and you should have added about 3 or more ladles of stock.
Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions
Broth: Use whatever broth you deem appropriate, just make sure that it tastes great because it will have a huge impact on the flavor of the dish. Traditional risotto uses a light broth, but because I haven’t found a broth I like as much as my own homemade, I always use my preferred dark stock (if I don’t have the former on hand). I recommend Kitchen Basics stocks.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Traditional risotto would use butter or a combination of butter and oil. I make it so often (and find butter too rich for this dish) that I use only olive oil in order to keep it as healthy as possible. The choice is yours.
Onion: A mild onion is best unless you’re looking for a particular flavor. Shallots are highly recommended and often used for risotto, but they’re a bit expensive, so I tend to use Vidalia/sweet yellow onions. Any mild cooking onion will do just fine, though.
Arborio Rice: This is a short grain rice that has been found particularly good for this dish. If you don’t happen to have it or can’t find it, feel free to use any short grain rice, including sushi rice (which I’ve used in a pinch!). You can also use other grains, such as farro, but may need to increase the amount of stock and cooking time, depending on the grain. Farrotto is actually a common dish and quite delicious! Like a heartier risotto.
Dry White Wine: Any wine will do fine as long as it tastes good! Even a sweet wine. Don’t worry too much about it. And feel free to switch to red, if you like. I’ve even used champagne when that’s all I had in the fridge.
Saute Pan: The best pan to use for risotto is something with a wide, flat bottom (preferably shallow), such as a saute pan or braiser pan, because then the rice will heat and cook evenly. If you use a deep pan with a curved bottom, it will take longer to heat the risotto and be more difficult to tell when it’s ready for more stock.
Why Stir and Add Liquid Gradually? By cooking the rice in this method, it slowly absorbs the liquid while releasing its starches, ensuring the end result is rice swimming in a creamy bath of broth, much like soup. If all the liquid is added at once, the end result will not be risotto, but simply cooked Arborio rice. To be a risotto, it must be like a soup.
Timing the Risotto Just Right: A really good risotto cooks in just the right amount of time, having absorbed just the right amount of liquid and this isn’t as difficult as it may seem. A great trick is that it should take just under two minutes to absorb most of a half cup of broth. If the rice isn’t ready for more stock within two minutes, raise the heat slightly. If the rice is ready for more stock more quickly than within two minutes, lower the heat slightly. What happens when your rice takes too long to cook is it ends up being soft and mushy; when it cooks too quickly, it’s soft on the outside and hard on the inside. Taking the little extra effort to watch the clock is very helpful and you’ll be so happy with the end result.
How to Know When It’s Ready for More Broth: There should always be a thin veil of liquid over the rice. As you stir, you should notice that, eventually, your spoon will create a wake in its path–instead of broth immediately filling in behind the spoon, it will leave a path that the broth only slowly runs into. This is when you should add your next ladle of stock and, as stated above, about two minutes should pass between this ladle and the next.
How to Make it Slightly Ahead: Don’t stress yourself over the whole idea that this needs to be served immediately or the texture will change. If you’re serving risotto and, for whatever reason, it’s going to be finished before it’s time to eat, then simply stop cooking before the last ladle; remove the pan from the heat and leave it uncovered. Then, just before it’s time to serve, put the pan back on the heat and add the last ladle of stock.
Risotto Absorbed Too Much Broth? If the risotto absorbed just a little too much broth before you were able to serve it, just pour in more to bring back that soupy texture.
- Replace part of the broth with another flavored liquid, such as tomato sauce; simply combine them at the beginning and add as normal.
- Roast vegetables until soft and caramelized, mixing them into the risotto at the last minute or topping it once served (butternut squash and sweet potatoes are particularly good!).
- Double the amount of onions, slicing rather than mincing, and caramelize them before adding the rice to create a flavor like French onion soup (use beef broth for authenticity).
- Add a full head of roasted garlic, chopped fresh herbs, and throw in a drizzle of olive oil at the end.
- Top risotto with toasted nuts, such as slivered almonds or chopped hazelnuts, or homemade croutons. The crunch adds a wonderful contrasting texture (think like crackers in soup).
Just play around with it and you’ll find a world of possibilities!
How to Use the Leftovers: If you make too much or if you just want a ton of delicious soup bases for last-minute meals, refrigerate or freeze the leftovers and then heat and puree them with stock or water to create a delicious cream soup.
If you do want to serve leftover risotto (keeping in mind that it will be much softer), reheat it and, just before serving, add enough stock to bring back the original soupy texture.
My Favorite Risotto Cookbook: Risotto by Judith Barrett has taken my risotto from bowl of mush (as you can see in the photo of butternut squash risotto below) to the silky, liquid risotto that it should be. Her tips are great and, above, I’ve translated some of hers (such as the two minute rule) as well as my own.
Here is what’s so difficult about risotto…the misconception that it’s difficult! Honestly, I will acknowledge fear about getting the texture right and how easy it is to screw up because that almost soup-like creaminess is what makes risotto, not the fact that you used Arborio rice. I mean, just because you cooked potatoes doesn’t mean you made mashed potatoes or a potato gratin or French fries. However…even if your rice ends up thick and softer than it’s supposed to, it will be delicious and so very satisfying! So, I’m here to say, make risotto! Make it plain, make it with tomato sauce, bits of butternut squash, loads of roasted garlic and fresh herbs. You’ll never look back! And, on top of that, your life will be made easier because, in one batch of risotto, you can end up with the base for ten-minute risotto and some of the creamiest, most flavorful, five-minute soups you can make.
How, you ask? Easily…
First we’ll start with the ten-minute risotto. I found this tip in a book by Jamie Oliver and was so excited! Basically, you cook risotto to the halfway point, which is about ten minutes and three to five ladles of stock. You then pour it out onto a sheet pan, spreading evenly, and immediately put it in the fridge to stop the rice from cooking further. After it has completely cooled, you can transfer it to a container for storage. When you want to cook it later in the week, simply put it in a pan with a ladle of warm stock and gently heat it to temperature, allowing it to mostly absorb that ladleful before finishing it with three to four more! In about ten minutes you have freshly made risotto with the same texture as if you’d never stopped in the first place.
This is a great idea if you want to make it for a gathering since risotto must be served immediately lest you chance the rice absorbing every bit of liquid and becoming mushy. Even better, though, busy people, like me, can have a family meal (since risotto is truly a main course!) or side dish finished in ten minutes. What I Iike to do is start a full batch of risotto and refrigerate half of it for later, leaving me with the other half to eat that night. Half a batch is a full meal for two people, so that works perfectly for B. and me.
What if I don’t save half of it in this manner, though, and end up with a load of leftovers? As flavorful as it is, I don’t really want to eat the equivalent of mashed rice…so what I do is portion it and throw it in the fridge or freezer. Then, whenever I like, I have nearly instant, effortless, creamy soup. I take the risotto and put it in a pot with some stock. Once they’ve warmed up, I puree them together with an immersion blender (you can use a blender or food processor, though) and add more liquid or risotto, if necessary, until I have the consistency I desire. I just eyeball the measurements because everybody likes theirs differently and you should make it to your own liking.
It’s so easy too…I come home from work for a half hour break and seriously do this! The mixture heats up (in minutes) while I feed the baby and I need only a minute to puree it before putting it in a thermos and heading back to the office. That’s how simple and fast. And the flavor…it tastes just like the risotto! So, you can have onion soup, roasted vegetable, tomato and basil, sweet potato…your options are endless and all absolutely wonderful. In my opinion, this is as easy as canned soup, but better tasting and worlds healthier, especially if you make risotto as I usually do—sans butter or parmesan. I actually prefer the taste without them; the butter is just too rich for me. Plus, I make it several times a week, so it’s just plain healthier!
To get you started on what I can only imagine is a path to addiction…I’ve provided a base recipe with ideas for variation. Enjoy and don’t be daunted!