Risotto is one of those dishes that takes humble and ordinary rice to extraordinary levels. However, many home cooks assume that risotto is a complex and extremely difficult dish to get right, leaving this task up to restaurant chefs. We are here to change that! Risotto is a highly versatile dish that can be served as a starter, a main course or a side dish. It can also be made with so many different ingredients and flavours that you will never get bored of this beautiful Italian classic. So if you want perfect results (even if it’s your first time making risotto), read on to learn all about the right ingredients to use, methods that will make a creamy risotto and flavours to add that will keep you coming for more.
- What Is Risotto?
- Basic Risotto Ingredients
- Basic Technique: How To Cook Risotto?
- How To Make Risotto Creamy?
- Serving Risotto
- What To Serve With Risotto?
- Storage and Reheating
- What To Do With Leftover Risotto?
- Recipe FAQs
- Delicious Risotto Recipes
- Basic Risotto Recipe
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What Is Risotto?
Risotto is a quintessentially Italian rice dish, that originates from Lombardy, Northern Italy. Whilst there are a lot of flavour variations of risotto across Italy (Risotto al nero di seppia in Venice, Risotto alla milanese in Milan etc), the cooking methods are essentially the same: a special type of rice is cooked in broth /stock until the rice softens and releases its starch to create a creamy texture.
The word risotto derives from the Italian word riso (meaning rice). As with many traditional dishes, the history of risotto is speculative. The first recorded recipes (dating back as far as 1809) all included saffron to give the dish a vibrant yellow colour. These days saffron risotto is known as Risotto alla milanese, whilst other risottos use different ingredients to flavour and colour the dish.
Basic Risotto Ingredients
To make a basic risotto, that can act as a blank canvas to add flavour to, you will need 4 simple ingredients:
- risotto rice: read all about the rice choice in the section below, but in short, arborio rice and carnaroli rice are among the most popular varieties. This is no doubt the key ingredient in this traditional Italian rice dish, so you want to get it right!
- onions or shallots: use shallots if you are introducing milder, more subtle flavours to your risotto. Onion may overpower in this case.
- wine: whilst originally risotto is made with dry Italian white wine, these days, some recipes use red wine or even no wine at all. We have a section below explaining how to make risotto without wine.
- stock/ broth: the choice of stock will depend on what flavours you are introducing into your risotto. Chicken stock will work best with meat and poultry risottos, vegetable broth can be used in vegetarian or plant-based risotto recipes, fish or mushroom stock can also be used to pair with various flavours. But high-quality is essential for a good risotto!
Choosing the Right Rice for Risotto is the key factor that leads to a creamy consistency, al dente grains of rice and overall the best risotto experience. For a successful end result, choose short-grain rice with high starch content that are able to withstand long cooking. The most popular varieties are Arborio and Carnaroli (and out of the two, our vote goes to Carnaroli). Both types of rice are perfect for slow cooking, allowing the flavours of stock to be infused into the grains without losing their shape. Vialone Nano is also growing in popularity!
How Much Risotto Rice Per Person
To be filling enough to serve as a main course, you will need 70-90g of risotto rice (uncooked) per person. The amount will depend on what other ingredients you add to your dish. For example, the chicken risotto will be a lot more filling than the mushroom risotto.
If you are serving risotto as a starter you will need 30-40g per person.
Best White Wine For Risotto
It might be tempting to use cheap cooking wine in your risotto. But we strongly advise against it. This is not to suggest that you should use expensive wine, but just use a bottle that you would be happy to drink too. Cooking wine typically has no prominent flavour and when the alcohol evaporates, you are left with no hint that you added the wine in the first place. Whilst you can use a wide variety or white wine, here are a few pointers. Choose white wine that is:
- Dry (as opposed to medium or sweet).
- Crisp (with citrus or fruit undernotes).
- Unoaked (oaky wine will likely overpower or clash with other flavours).
Generally speaking, most Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio wines will work just fine!
How To Make Risotto Without Wine?
Whilst wine improves the depth of flavour of your risottos, it can taste great without it! So you may skip the wine altogether and simply add a little bit more stock, or if you have one of the two ingredients below, add it to the recipe to give it a little lift, and recreate some of the flavours of the wine without the price tag attached:
- Add 2 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to your rice after toasting, before adding the stock.
- Add 1 tablespoon of white wine or cider vinegar to your stock.
Basic Technique: How To Cook Risotto?
STEP 1: Keep Stock Warm
Prepare the stock/ broth. For the best flavour, use homemade stock (vegetable or chicken broth), but you may also use bouillon powder or stock cubes. Whichever option you take, make sure you pour your stock into a large saucepan and set it over low heat. Make sure it is kept warm, but don’t boil it (a low simmer is more than enough). Cover the pan with a lid to prevent the stock from evaporating.
STEP 2: Sweat The Onions First
Heat a large pan over medium heat with 1-2 tablespoon of odourless oil (like sunflower or vegetable oil).
Add finely chopped onions or shallots and sautee for 4-5 minutes until just soft. Do not let them brown.
STEP 3: Toast Risotto Rice
Turn the heat up, tip in the short grain rice and stir to coat the rice in oil and onions. Keep stirring for 2-3 minutes (again don’t let the rice brown
Turn up the heat, add the rice and stir, coating the rice in the softened onions. Cook out for a few minutes until the rice starts turning slightly translucent.
Toasting the rice in a pan before adding any stock is an important step in any risotto preparation. The process seals the surface of the rice, helping it preserve its shape and retain the typical al dente texture.
STEP 4: Add the Wine
Add a splash of white wine (or more depending on how much risotto you’re cooking) and reduce by about 75% on relatively high heat.
STEP 5: Add The Stock Gradually
Reduce the heat slightly (medium-high). One ladle at a time, start adding the stock and stir continuously until all the stock is absorbed. Add another ladle of stock and keep on cooking until you have no stock left or until your rice is cooked al dente. It will take 20-15 minutes.
Don’t add all the stock at the same time. Gradually adding stock and stirring allows the rice to release its starch at a slow rate, making the risotto creamy. Another advantage of adding the stock gradually is being able to control how much of the stock is actually needed before the rice is cooked.
Take the rice off of the heat before stirring in any cheese or cold butter to make it even creamier.
How To Make Risotto Creamy?
If you use the right ingredients and cooking technique, your rice should release the starch in the cooking process and become creamy without the addition of anything else. However, if you want to go that one step further, here’s what you can do:
- Instead of only using Parmesan to top the dish, after taking the risotto off of the heat, stir in some of the cheese into the rice, cover with the lid and let it melt for a couple of minutes.
- Stir in a generous knob of butter just before plating.
- If you want the traditional dairy-style creaminess in your risotto, we highly recommend using creme fraiche or sour cream instead of heavy cream. Heavy cream (also known as double cream) will add an unwanted hint of sweetness and leave a greasy aftertaste on your tongue. Note, that even if you are adding creme fraiche, a little goes a long way! 1 tablespoon is more than enough for 2 portions of risotto.
The beauty of this Italian rice dish is that it can be served as a starter, a main course, and… well dessert (which isn’t as strange when you consider that rice pudding is one of the most popular desserts in the world).
To serve your risotto as a starter, keep it relatively small. Starchy rice is rather filling, so you will only need 3-4 spoonfuls per portion if you want your guests/ family to still be hungry for the next couple of courses. However, since you are serving your risotto in small amounts, you can go bold with flavours: try Smoked Cheese Risotto or Sweet Chilli Risotto as a starter.
Risotto can also be served as a main course in its own right. We recommend adding some type of protein to make it filling and satisfying. Prawn and Chorizo Risotto, Risotto Al Nero and Risotto Verde all make a wonderful main dish.
Or you can simply serve it as a side dish, replacing steamed white rice. Basic risotto or vegetable risotto (like Courgette Risotto or Leek Risotto) can be paired with chicken breast (like in this Leek & Chicken Risotto) or a fillet of fish. Another Italian classic, Ossobuco alla Milanese, uses saffron risotto as a side dish to veal shank.
What To Serve With Risotto?
If you are making risotto as a main dish, you may wonder what sides go well with it. And it will come as no surprise that it highly depends on what type of risotto you are making. However, here are a few sidekicks that we think go very well with most risottos:
- A glass of wine.
- Roasted Cherry Tomatoes.
- Lemon & Garlic Tenderstem Broccoli
- Steamed Green Beans.
Storage and Reheating
If you have any risotto left over, let it cool down to room temperature. Spoon it into an airtight container and store it in the fridge. If you are storing the basic risotto, it will keep for 4 days. But if your risotto contains lots of vegetables or meat, we recommend consuming it within 48 hours. Seafood risotto is best consumed on the day that it is cooked.
Can You Freeze Risotto?
Risotto can be frozen, however, it will lose its perfect texture that you worked hard to create. The rice will likely no longer be al dente, and any vegetables will lose crunch and become mushier. However, we find that chicken, mushroom or courgette risotto freeze well. Do not freeze risotto made with previously frozen ingredients (once thawed they typically cannot be safely refrozen).
How To Reheat Risotto?
In a Microwave: To reheat, simply place your risotto in a heatproof dish (you can reheat your risotto in most airtight containers, but you will need to unclip the lid and place it closely on top). If your risotto is frozen, we recommend thawing it in the fridge first. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of hot water or broth (the amount of water will depend on how much risotto you are reheating, but you just need enough to loosen it and allow enough liquid to compensate for what will evaporate during the reheating process).
Place the dish with your risotto, loosely covered, into a microwave and heat for 1-2 minutes (again, depending on how much risotto you are warming through). Take the dish out of the microwave, carefully remove the lid (steam may be very hot and may scold) and stir with a spoon. Return to the microwave and continue for another 1-2 minutes. If your risotto is not piping hot, heat it in the microwave for a little longer.
On The Stove: Spoon your risotto into a non-stick pan and add a couple of tablespoons of hot broth/water. Stirring continuously, heat it over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
NOTE: Not all risotto recipes can be reheated safely (or without destroying the texture of add-in ingredients). We do not recommend reheating risottos made with prawns or other seafood.
What To Do With Leftover Risotto?
If you would rather make another recipe using your leftover risotto, well… you absolutely should. If you’ve ever had arancini balls, you will know how irresistible they can be. Here are some of our favourite recipes using leftover risotto:
Is Risotto Gluten-Free?
Typically, risotto is gluten-free, however, this depends on the ingredients used to flavour your risotto. For example, if you are using a stock cube, always check that it is safe for celiacs.
What Is Al Dente? How To Tell If My Risotto Rice Is Cooked Right?
Italian cuisine has an al dente theme going. Just like pasta, risotto rice should be cooked al dente, meaning each rice grain should have a little bit of texture left in the centre. As you practice cooking risotto, you will be able to tell if the rice is cooked right just by tasting it. But there is also a way to test it, using a ‘smear test’ according to Sheela Prakash.
What is the Best Cheese For Topping Risottos?
Traditional risotto is always topped with Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), however, we recommend you don’t limit yourself to this one type of cheese. Padana Grano or Pecorino Romano are great alternatives! We find that sharp mature cheddar is great for budget-friendly risotto recipes too. What is more, you can use cheese for more than topping your risotto – you can actually base the flavour profile of your risotto on cheese alone as we have in our Blue Cheese Risotto and Smoked Cheese Risotto recipes.
Delicious Risotto Recipes
Whether you are looking for a classic Italian dish or a modern version of risotto fusing flavours from around the globe, we have you covered. Below are some of our top risotto recipes that will make a great meal any day of the week.
- Sweet Chilli Risotto With Peppers
- Risotto Verde (Pea & Asparagus Risotto)
- Blue Cheese Risotto With Sweet Potatoes
Fish & Seafood
- Smoked Salmon Risotto (recipe coming in March)
- Risotto al Nero (Seafood Risotto With Squid Ink)
Meat & Poultry
- Chorizo and Prawn Risotto
- Smoked Cheese & Chicken Risotto
- Leek & Chicken Risotto (recipe coming soon)
Basic Risotto Recipe
Basic Risotto Recipe
- 650 ml stock/ broth
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 brown onion/ shallot finely chopped
- 100 ml white wine
- 170 g risotto rice
- Pour your stock into a large saucepan and set it over low heat. Make sure it is kept warm, but don’t boil it (a low simmer is more than enough). Cover the pan with a lid to prevent the stock from evaporating.
- Heat a large pan over medium heat with oil (like sunflower or vegetable oil).
- Add finely chopped onions or shallots and sautee for 4-5 minutes until just soft. Do not let them brown.
- Turn the heat up, tip in the rice and stir to coat the rice in oil and onions. Keep stirring for 2-3 minutes (again don’t let the rice brown
- Turn up the heat, add the rice and stir, coating the rice in the softened onions. Cook out for a few minutes until the rice starts turning slightly translucent.
- Add the white wine and reduce by about 75% on relatively high heat.
- Reduce the heat slightly (medium-high). One ladle at a time, start adding the stock and stir continuously until all the stock is absorbed. Add another ladle of stock and keep on cooking until you have no stock left or until your rice is cooked al dente. It will take 20-15 minutes.
- Take the rice off of the heat before stirring in any cheese or cold butter to make it even creamier (optional).
Love risotto and your detailed recipe and instruction. Thanks for sharing.
I’ve always wanted to make more risotto, and these tips are amazing!
Your step by step guide and video are a great tool for those like me who need help when it comes to making risotto. I can’t wait to finally make a perfect risotto.
This risotto looks fantastic! I love all the tips and tricks to help make it absolutely perfect at home.
I had always been too intimidated to make risotto but I gave it a try with your thorough instructions and it turned out great! Now I can add it to my recipe repertoire 🙂