What Is Risotto?

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What is risotto? It's only one of our favorite Italian dishes! This creamy rice dish is warm and comforting, and it's easier to make than you might think.

Risotto seems like one of those dishes that’s complicated and time-consuming to make at home. Better leave it to the restaurant professionals, right? Not so fast! We’ll let you in on a secret: Risotto is actually super easy to make. By following a few simple tips, this dish can be ready in less than an hour.

But before we dive into the recipe, let’s look at what risotto is and why you might want to buy specialty rice.

What is risotto, exactly?

Risotto is a creamy Italian dish that tastes a lot like the rice version of mac and cheese. Unlike other rice recipes that require simmering in a pot of water, risotto is cooked very slowly by adding small amounts of liquid at a time. This process allows the rice to release its starches, creating a rich, velvety sauce with soft but slightly al dente grains.

Risotto is best enjoyed the second it comes off the stovetop; the starches begin to set as you wait, affecting that saucy goodness you worked so hard to create. But don’t worry if you made more than you planned, because those leftovers make one of our favorite recipes. Mix the extra risotto with an egg and roll it in breadcrumbs. Fry ’em up to create delicious arancini risotto balls.

What is risotto made of?

At its most basic, the recipe for risotto includes rice, broth and aromatics. How you combine them will make or break the dish. The trick to creating the perfect texture is warming your broth ahead of time. Cold liquid not only makes the dish take longer to cook, but it can also cause the starches to seize up.

Most risotto recipes also include butter and cheese. We’re totally on board with these additions because they’re delicious, but they’re not strictly necessary. All that creaminess is created by slowly coaxing out the rice’s starch molecules, so added dairy isn’t required. You could easily make this a plant-based recipe by using vegetable broth and skipping the butter and cheese.

Can you use regular rice to make risotto?

You can, but the dish won’t be the same. Long-grain varieties (like white rice, basmati or jasmine) cook up fluffy, and the individual grains stay separated. Short-grain arborio rice, on the other hand, sticks together as it cooks. You’ll get chewier grains that clump together by using this specialty rice. If you can get your hands on carnaroli rice, all the better. It’s even starchier than arborio, so it makes a truly restaurant-worthy risotto.

What’s the best pan for risotto?

Taste of Home Culinary Deputy Editor James Schend recommends using a heavy Dutch oven for risotto. “With thinner Dutch ovens, the rice tends to stick and burn on the bottom of the pan more easily than the enameled cast iron.”

“Stay away from cast iron if you are using anything acidic like wine,” adds Senior Food Stylist Shannon Norris. “It could discolor the risotto.” So, make sure the Dutch oven is enameled cast iron. Any of our Test Kitchen pros’ favorite Dutch oven brands will do the job well.

Shannon also recommends making risotto in the Instant Pot. Though not the traditional method, she’s found it turns out great. Many models have a specific risotto function that makes it even easier. Try our Pressure-Cooker Risotto with Chicken and Mushrooms as an alternative to the classic.

How to Make Risotto

Ingredients

  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3 cups arborio rice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine or water
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Yield: 12 servings

Tools You’ll Need

  • Dutch Oven: Our Test Kitchen pros recommend a heavy Dutch oven. Make sure it’s enameled cast iron, too.
  • Ladle: You’ll need a ladle to pour the heated chicken broth into the rice mixture. Remember: Add just a half cup at a time!
  • Cheese Grater: It’s important to grate the cheese yourself—don’t buy shredded cheese.

Directions

Step 1: Get a few pans ready

Sorry, but this isn’t a one-pot meal! To do it right, you’ll need a large saucepan to keep the broth warm and a Dutch oven to make the actual risotto.

Get started by heating the broth in the saucepan over medium-high heat. Once it’s simmering, reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan to keep the broth warm while you work on the rice.

Step 2: Get aromatic

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute it until it’s soft and tender, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is lightly toasted and the garlic is fragrant.

Editor’s Tip: Build layers of flavor in your risotto by sweating your onion before toasting it with the rice. This step is one of the reasons why risotto is so much more flavorful than regular rice!

Step 3: Deglaze

Add the wine to the Dutch oven and cook, stirring until the liquid is completely absorbed. If you carefully hover your nose over the top of the pot, there should be no lingering alcohol aroma.

Editor’s Tip: We love using a dry white wine for this step because it adds a beautiful touch of acidity to the finished dish. But, you can feel free to use water if you don’t usually cook with wine.

Step 4: Add the broth a little at a time

Here’s where patience will be your friend! Reduce the heat to medium-low and add 1/2 cup of the warm broth to get the creamiest, softest risotto possible. Stir constantly as the rice fully absorbs the liquid before adding the next 1/2 cup. Keep stirring until you’re down to the final addition. All in all, this process should take about 20 minutes.

With the final addition, reduce the liquid until the rice just absorbs the broth. The risotto should be creamy and tender but not thick—when you run a spoon through the pot, the rice should flow back together.

Editor’s Tip: If you reduced the broth too far in the last addition, add a tablespoon of water or a pat of butter and give the mixture a quick stir. This will help loosen up those setting starches.

Step 5: Stir in the cheese and serve

Now, for the best part: the cheese! Real Parmigiano Reggiano adds the perfect amount of salty, savory and creamy consistency to your perfectly cooked risotto. Add the cheese along with the butter, salt, pepper and parsley and stir until well combined. Serve immediately.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.