Risotto — it looks like rice, but a good plate of risotto is creamy, tender and altogether reminiscent of a pasta dish. So which is it? Rice or pasta?
First, it’s important to note that risotto isn’t a type of “either rice or pasta”; it’s simply the name of an Italian dish. However, risotto is always made with rice.
As Slurrp explains in an article detailing risotto’s origins, traditionally, risotto is made from one of three types of rice: Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano (Arborio is what you’ll likely be able to locate easiest at your average grocery store). Italy began growing rice in the medieval ages, but the first written record of risotto did not appear until the 1700s, after which the dish grew in popularity.
While risotto always incorporates these types of rice, you will find some similar “risotto” recipes that swap the rice out for similar ingredients, such as orzo, which is a similarly shaped pasta, or barley.
How to Cook Risotto
If you’ve never made risotto at home before, the process is simple, even if it does require quite a bit of time standing over the stove. In order to achieve risotto’s characteristic, creamy, tender texture, you have to simmer the risotto in small amounts of broth until all of the broth is absorbed, adding more broth in similar small quantities as you go, until the dish is finished.
A basic risotto only requires a few ingredients (check out our recipe below!), but, once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll find that this dish is extremely versatile and can be combined with a range of flavors (just like any rice). You could make fresh tomato risotto with grilled greens, a lemon and edamame risotto, a roasted tomato risotto — there’s an option for every season and every palate.
Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Risotto
However you end up cooking your risotto, whatever flavors you end up combining, there are a few mistakes that you’ll want to avoid, in order to achieve that restaurant risotto-level of soft creaminess and deep flavor.
Rinsing Your Rice
While you may typically rinse your rice before making a dish, don’t make the mistake of rinsing the rice you plan to use in your risotto. Risotto relies on the rice’s starch for its texture, and rinsing it removes that starch.
Forgoing the Stock
Often, if you don’t have any stock on hand for a recipe, you might sub in water. However, just like you wouldn’t do this when making soup, don’t do this when making risotto. Risotto derives a large majority of its flavor from the cooking stock or broth, so not only do you want to always use stock as the recipe calls for it, but you also always want to use a good-quality stock (homemade if you have it). And don’t forget to heat it up before adding it to the rice!
Adding Your Other Ingredients Too Soon
Don’t throw your extra risotto ingredients — whether it be cheese, veggies, whatever — into the pan right as your risotto finishes cooking. Instead, take your risotto off the heat and add your other ingredients only after the risotto is completely done. Otherwise, you could end up negatively impacting the risotto’s texture.
An Easy Version of an Italian Classic
Even though authentic Risotto uses simple ingredients, preparation technique is everything and it’s easy to mess it up. If you’ve never attempted homemade risotto before, here’s a basic recipe to get you started.
- 1 onion medium-sized, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 cup Arborio rice uncooked
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 28 oz chicken broth we used two 14-ounce cans of reduced sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese finely shredded
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- In a large saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter until the onion starts to become tender and translucent around the edges; add Arborio rice. Continually stir over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
- In a separate saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a simmer.
- Slowly pour the wine into the saucepan with the rice mixture, stirring constantly until wine is fully absorbed.
- Get 1 cup of the simmering chicken broth and slowly add it to the rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat until the broth is absorbed. Add another 1/2 cup of the broth to the rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue this process of adding broth 1/2 cup at a time and stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed each time until you've used all the broth. The process should take about 15-20 minutes, and the rice should be tender and firm when finished.
- Remove from heat. Stir in remaining butter, Parmesan cheese, and pepper. Serve immediately.