At its core, risotto is a rice dish hailing from northern Italy made by cooking rice in broth into a creamy meal. To do this, you must break the cardinal rule of rice: You must stir the rice as it is cooking.
Rice has two starches, amylose and amylopectin. Amylose is a type of starch that does not gelatinize during cooking, whereas amylopectin is the starch responsible for the sticky characteristics rice has. Long grain rice has more amylose and little amylopectin and the grains remain separate when treated gently. Short and medium grain rices have much more amylopectin, which is why they’re used for dishes like risotto and sushi. The release of the amylopectin into the broth as the rice cooks is what creates the delightfully creamy sauce that risotto is famous for.
Yes, risotto takes time and attention and a little muscle, but it’s not hard. So many people only ever eat risotto at restaurants, which is such a shame — it’s cheap, easy, and filling. More than that, though, it’s incredibly delicious, and it’s amazing to watch the transformation happen right before your eyes. A pot of rice and broth combine, bit by bit, to create a meal so creamy it seems impossible. One night when you have 30 minutes to spend talking on the phone or with a friend in your kitchen, make risotto. Pour yourself a glass of wine, grab your favorite wooden spoon, and turn a plain pot of rice into a pot of delicious gold. Though risotto is infinitely adaptable, here are six recipes to give you a place to start.
1. Risotto alla Milanese
This classic risotto is made with saffron, which gives it a beautiful golden color and a warm, earthy flavor. The story behind the dish, as told by Saveur, is that a glass artisan in Milan, back in 1574, was known for using saffron to stain the glass gold. The master glazier teased he’d be putting saffron in his risotto next — and so he did at his daughter’s wedding.
When making risotto, stir just often enough to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom. Though some recipes may call for stirring constantly, it can actually make your risotto too gluey.
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon saffron threads
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 small yellow onions, minced
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 ounces raw bone marrow, optional
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Directions: Heat stock and saffron in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat; keep warm.
Heat butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add rice; cook until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Add wine; cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup warm stock; cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue adding stock, ½ cup at a time, and cooking until absorbed before adding more, until rice is tender and creamy, about 16 minutes total. Stir in marrow, if using, and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper.
2. Wild Mushroom Risotto
Mushroom risotto is another classic. Wild mushrooms are hugely important to regional Italian cuisine, and they make a great addition to risotto. In this recipe from Bon Appétit via Epicurious, use whatever you can find. Bon Appétit recommends a mix of mushrooms such as porcini, hen of the woods, chanterelle, or stemmed shiitake.
- 9½ tablespoons butter, divided
- 1½ pounds fresh wild mushrooms, large mushrooms sliced, small mushrooms halved or quartered
- 7 cups low-salt chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup finely chopped leek, white and pale green parts only
- 1¼ cups arborio rice
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ¼ cup dry white vermouth
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving, optional
Directions: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ¼ of mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Sauté mushrooms until tender and beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to medium bowl. Working in 3 more batches, repeat with 6 tablespoons butter, remaining mushrooms, and salt and pepper.
Bring 7 cups chicken broth to simmer in medium saucepan; keep warm. Melt remaining 1½ tablespoons butter with olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leek, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add rice and increase heat to medium. Stir until edges of rice begin to look translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add white wine and vermouth and stir until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add ¾ cup warm chicken broth; stir until almost all broth is absorbed, about 1 minute.
Continue adding broth by ¾ cupfuls, stirring until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more, until rice is halfway cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir in sautéed mushrooms. Continue adding broth by ¾ cupfuls, stirring until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more, until rice is tender but still firm to bite and risotto is creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, if using. Transfer risotto to serving bowl. Pass additional Parmesan cheese alongside, if desired.
3. Pesto Risotto
For those who don’t like to cook with butter or wine, this recipe from Chef Savvy skips both in favor of toasting the rice in a bit of olive oil. For a bit of that acidity lost by skipping the wine, Kelley uses lemon juice. The pesto adds a consistent, lovely flavor throughout the whole dish. To make it even more substantial, add shrimp, scallops, or chicken.
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup arborio rice
- 2 cups warm chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoon pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup basil, packed
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
Directions: Add oil to a medium skillet over medium heat. Add rice and toast until lightly golden brown about 2 minutes.
Heat chicken broth in a separate saucepan while the rice is toasting. Pour in warm chicken broth ½ cup at a time until liquid is absorbed. Stir rice occasionally. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until all of the chicken stock is absorbed.
To make the pesto, add pine nuts and garlic cloves to a food processor. Pulse for 30 seconds. Add in basil and pulse for an additional 30 seconds. Scrape down sides as needed. With motor running, add olive oil in a slow steady stream. If pesto is too thick add in a bit more olive oil.
Take off of heat and add in Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, pepper, and pesto. Stir to combine and serve immediately.
4. Seafood Risotto
Seafood risotto is a Venetian classic. This version from Martha Stewart uses lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari. It’s perfect for a holiday meal or special occasion, but you could cut out some of the seafood and bump up others to fill out the dish for a less involved meal. When you need to impress, though, keep this recipe on tap!
- ¼ cup coarse salt, plus more to taste
- 2 lobsters, 1½ pounds each
- 12 littleneck clams, scrubbed well
- 12 mussels, scrubbed well and debearded
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small dried chile de arbol, crumbled
- 1 cup dry sparkling white wine such as Prosecco
- 1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut crosswise into thirds
- 8 ounces calamari, bodies and tentacles, rinsed, dried, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
- 6½ cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought fish stock
- 2 tablespoons fresh chervil, minced, plus sprigs for garnish
- Pinch of saffron threads
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 medium shallots, minced
- 2 cups Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice, Arborio if they are unavailable
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest from 1 to 2 lemons
Directions: Fill a large bowl with ice water, and set aside. Fill a large stockpot three-quarters full with cold water. Bring to a boil, and add ¼ cup salt. Plunge lobsters head first into water. Return to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes; the meat will not be fully cooked. Using tongs, transfer lobsters to ice water, and let cool for 5 minutes. Place lobsters on a cutting board.
Using a kitchen towel to protect your hands, twist off tail and claws; discard body. Twist fan off end of tail, and push meat out of shell or use kitchen shears to cut up length of tail, and pull shell away from meat. Cut tail in half lengthwise, and then crosswise. Transfer tail meat to a plate lined with paper towels. Separate claws from knuckles; twist and pull off pincers. With back of knife, crack knuckle end of claw. Gently remove whole piece of meat, and add to plate. Crack knuckle, remove meat from shell, and add to plate. Wipe any white residue off meat.
Place clams and mussels in a large skillet or pot, and add 2 inches of water. Cover skillet, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until clams and mussels have opened, 4 to 5 minutes. Discard any that remain closed. Using a slotted spoon, transfer clams and mussels to a bowl, and cover loosely with parchment and then foil.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and chile, and cook for 1 minute. Add ¼ cup sparkling wine, and simmer until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Stir in shrimp, calamari, and ¼ cup stock, and cook until shrimp just turn pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in chervil. Remove from heat.
Combine saffron and remaining 6¼ cups stock in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer gently.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter with remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots, and cook until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add rice, and cook, stirring constantly, until edges of grains are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add remaining ¾ cup sparkling wine, and cook, stirring constantly, until wine has been completely absorbed. Add ½ cup of the simmering stock, and cook, stirring constantly, until stock has been completely absorbed and a wooden spoon drawn through rice leaves a trail. Continue adding stock, ½ cup at a time, waiting for each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, until you’ve added all but 1 cup of the stock. It should take 18 to 20 minutes.
Add lobster and shrimp mixture. Add ½ cup of the remaining stock, in same manner as described above. If you prefer a looser risotto, add the remaining ½ cup stock. Risotto is done when liquid looks creamy and grains are cooked but still slightly firm in centers. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining 6 tablespoons butter cut into pieces, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in lemon zest, clams, and mussels. Garnish with chervil sprigs. Serve immediately.
5. Baked Risotto with Peas, Asparagus, and Pancetta
There are days (most of them, in fact) where you just can’t stand over a stove for 30 minutes. In those times, though it’s important to really understand the traditional stovetop risotto, we turn to baked risotto. The oven really does all the work for you, and as long as it’s in a serving dish before anyone else comes into the kitchen, no one is the wiser. A tip from the folks at The Kitchn is to par-bake the risotto the night before you have dinner guests, and then reheat it on the stovetop with a cup or two of additional chicken broth. It’s all the benefits of a slaved-over risotto with less than half of the work.
- 4 ounces finely chopped pancetta
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 large shallots, finely chopped
- 1½ cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4½ cups chicken stock
- 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
- ½ bunch pencil-thin asparagus stalks, cut into ¾-inch pieces
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Directions: Preheat oven 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon butter and shallots to the pancetta drippings and cook until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and sauté until every grain is coated with butter, about 1 minute.
Increase heat to high. Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid evaporates. Add stock and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the liquid is almost cooked out and the risotto is creamy, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place over moderate heat. Stir in peas and asparagus and cook until the vegetables are bright green and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, Parmesan, and lemon zest. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with additional Parmesan and reserved pancetta.
6. Arancini di Riso
Coming from southern Italy, arancini are street food. They’re deep fried balls of risotto, and it’s the perfect way to use up any leftovers you have. You can make risotto specifically for arancini, too; you’ll need 2 cups of cooked and cooled risotto for this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network.
- Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
- 2 cups risotto
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- 1½ cups dried Italian-style bread crumbs
- 2 ounces mozzarella, cut into ½-inch cubes
Directions: Pour enough oil in a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stir the eggs, risotto, Parmesan, and ½ cup of the bread crumbs in a large bowl to combine. Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Using about 2 tablespoons of the risotto mixture for each, form the risotto mixture into 1¾-inch-diameter balls. Insert 1 cube of mozzarella into the center of each ball. Roll the balls in the bread crumbs to coat.
Working in batches, add the rice balls to the hot oil and cook until brown and heated through, turning them as necessary, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rice balls to paper towels to drain. Season with salt. Let rest 2 minutes. Serve hot.