Demystifying Risotto


If you have ever watched a “reality” cooking show like Hell’s Kitchen or MasterChef you would think that risotto is some impossible dish that is associated with fancy restaurants and takes hours over a hot stove while some chef is yelling in your ear.  In reality, risotto is one of the most popular ways to cook rice in Italy and is something most Italian home cooks can make in their sleep. Knowing how to make risotto is a great thing to have in your toolbox, as it is easy, endlessly flexible and never fails to elicit oohs and ahhs from your dinner companions.

Risotto has gained a reputation recently of being expensive, fussy and time consuming. Once you have all of your ingredients in place you can have a satisfying plate of risotto on the table in less than 30 minutes, and usually closer to 20 minutes. The key to risotto is making sure everything is ready to go before adding anything to the pan. Risotto requires a fair amount of attention and stirring, and you won’t have time to chop veggies, grate cheese, etc. once you start this process.

You should think of risotto as more of a technique instead of a static recipe. Once you understand the technique, you can add mushrooms, vegetables, proteins (such as shrimp, italian sausage, tempeh) and have a whole roster of dishes at your fingertips. The basic blueprint for risotto is (1) saute up aromatics (onion, garlic, herbs) in fat (butter, olive oil), (2) add the rice to the pan and stir, coating the grains in the oil, lightly toasting the rice, (3) slowly adding warm broth to the rice and stirring, and (4) add your mix-ins.

Basic Risotto

4 – 6 Servings


  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of arborio rice (sometimes simply labeled as risotto rice)
  • 1/2 cup white wine (as long as it isn’t a sweet white like moscato or a dessert wine; I used risling)
  • 6 cups stock, warmed over low heat (vegetable, chicken, seafood; aim for something fairly light, not a heavy beef stock)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup cheese (parmesan is the classic here)

1. Make sure everything is chopped and your stock is being warmed in a medium saucepan over low heat

2. Heat a high-sided pan with a large bottom (10-inch skillet, dutch oven, etc.) over medium heat. Melt the butter and add the onion to the pan. Sauté for 3-5 minutes until the onion softens and turns translucent. Add garlic and any other seasonings (italian seasoning), along with salt and pepper and cook for another minute until fragrant.

3. Add your rice to the onion and garlic mix, stir until the grains are nice and coated with the butter. Add more if needed, the grains need a nice coating. Stir until the ends are translucent and the middle is still opaque. The rice should have a nice toasty scent.

Nicely coated and toasty rice

4. Add the wine to pan, stirring and deglazing the pan. Simmer and stir until the wine is reduced and the pan is dry.

5. Add the warm broth to the rice, one ladle at a time. Stirring until the rice has absorbed the broth, then adding another ladle. Don’t rush this step as this slow adding of the broth is what cooks the rice and releases the starch in the rice. This starch creates the nice creamy texture that risotto is loved for.  Begin to taste your rice after about 15 minutes, the rice should have a bit of a chew and a thick creamy consistency. Traditionally the consistency is described as “all’onda”, wavy or flowing in waves.

6. As a final step, add and gently stir in an additional ladle of broth, the cheese and your cooked mix-ins. If you want to add some additional richness, feel free to add another tablespoon of butter. Serve immediately.

                    Don’t rush and flood your rice with broth

When the broth is mostly absorbed add another ladle

Take your time and you will be rewarded with this wonderful creaminess!


2 thoughts on “Demystifying Risotto

  1. In her book “Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table,” I remember that the author Shauna Niequist talked about risotto as you do. People think it’s fussy but it’s actually fairly easy and can be impressive. I’ve never prepared risotto… I’ll have to take you two’s word for it and give it a shot sometime…

    • Thanks for your great comment Michelle. Like many peasant dishes, the simplicity of risotto is a beautiful thing. With just a handful of simple ingredients, you can create an impressive restaurant quality dish.

      How easy and tasty, yet refined risotto can be has been a real revelation to me. The most difficult thing about risotto is the attention it requires but there is something fascinating about watching the dish come together into such a delicious dish. Take the plunge and make some risotto, you won’t be disappointed!

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