Please allow 30 minutes.
You’ve probably seen that caveat listed in reference to risotto on a restaurant menu before, right? And maybe because of that you think that risotto is hard, or fancy, or something you’d only eat in a restaurant—never at home.
But while 30 minutes is a long time to wait for dinner at a restaurant, it’s a relatively fast weeknight meal. (And risotto really does only take 30 minutes—it’s just best served right away, so restaurants often make it to order.)
And risotto isn’t just fast, but easy. All it really requires is your presence while you stir it, a process I find kind of relaxing—especially when you consider the steam facial I inevitably get in the process.
Risotto requires some butter or olive oil, rice, broth, and a bit of Parm, and you can add so much more, from veggies to shrimp to different kinds of cheese. One thing it doesn’t require? A recipe. Instead, just follow these simple steps.
SWEAT SOME ONIONS
Pick a big heavy pot or Dutch oven and place it over medium heat. Add a knob of butter or splash of olive oil, then, a minute later, toss in a couple of finely diced shallots or a finely diced small onion or leek. You can add a bit of finely chopped garlic and/or ginger here, too, if you want that extra flavor. Stir all this until it all softens and becomes translucent.
Risotto works best when made with a short-grained white rice such as carnaroli or arborio. You want about a handful of rice (or 1/4 cup) per person you’re serving—it’ll double in size as it cooks, so don’t worry if it doesn’t look like enough rice. If you really want to add more, go for it—extra risotto is never a bad thing, and you can turn it into arancini a few days later.
Add your rice to your cooked onion (or leek, or shallots) and stir to throughly coat in oil (or butter).
ADD GRATED VEGGIES (IF YOU WANT)
At the same time you add the rice, you can also add some finely-shredded carrots or beets, which can give your risotto a pretty hue and lend extra flavor and nutrients. I particularly love the combo of shredded carrots and ginger at the base of my risotto.
SPLASH IN A BIT OF WINE
Once your rice is coated in oil, turn up the heat to medium-high and splash some wine into the pot. You can use any kind or color of wine that you happen to have open, and if you don’t have wine you can use vermouth or sherry or beer. You can also skip this step entirely if you’d rather, though it does help add a nice depth of flavor. Whatever you use, don’t go crazy with it—a glug or two should do. Stir constantly until it’s reduced by more than half.
STIR IN BROTH
Most traditional risotto recipes have you heat a pot of broth on the side to add in batches to your rice. But I stand with Kenji from Serious Eats, who swears it’s a waste of time (and dishes!) to heat your broth for risotto.
Instead, grab any kind of room-temperature stock or broth you want: Vegetable, chicken, beef, shrimp, mushroom, etc. Homemade is delicious, of course but store-bought works great, too. The amount of liquid you need is going to depend on the size of your pan, how hot your stove is, and how much rice you’re using. And there’s no exact foolproof ratio—it’s best done by feel (more on that below). The good news is if you run out of broth or stock, you can always switch to water.
Pour in enough of whatever kind of liquid you’re using to fully cover your rice, then give it a few good stirs. You don’t have to stir it constantly, but stir it often. When a little more than half the liquid has been soaked up by the rice, add more broth and start stirring again. Be careful not to let it get fully dry—you want things to stay pretty wet and saucy so it has a chance to form that nice, creamy sauce.
When the rice starts looking nice and plump, start tasting it for texture. You’re looking for a rice texture that’s al dente (in other words, cooked but not mushy). As soon as it reaches that point, turn off the heat. The overall risotto texture should be sort of soupy—you should be able to pour it. (Too many people overcook their risotto and let it get too dry—please don’t be one of those people! If it’s too thick and clumpy, stir in more liquid.)
FINISH WITH SOMETHING CREAMY
To get the risotto even creamier, stir in a few pats of butter. Or drizzle in some heavy cream. Or add a scoop of crème fraîche or mascarpone or sour cream. And don’t forget the cheese! Finely grated Parmesan is the classic addition here, and always my favorite, but you can add any kind of crumbled or shredded cheese you fancy.
Now taste your risotto, season it with salt and pepper, and taste it again. If it still needs jazzing up and/or balancing, add some lemon zest, orange zest, chili flakes, or a squeeze of lemon juice or tiny splash of vinegar—whatever you have around that will wake your risotto up.
STIR IN OR TOP WITH EXTRAS
You can add anything to your risotto once it’s done, so long as you do it quickly (so make sure your ingredients are already cooked or warmed). Stir in crisped bacon or pancetta and peas, or top each serving with sautéed mushrooms and kale, or with shrimp or scallops or crumbled sausage and maybe some fresh herbs and more cheese. Or keep your risotto pure and serve it as is—no one will complain.
SERVE IT HOT, AND RIGHT AWAY
However you decide you want to serve your risotto, serve it right away. And to make sure it doesn’t seize up into cement, serve it in warm bowls—a little step that makes a huge difference. You just spent at least 20 minutes stirring that rice, right? May as well give it the vessel it deserves.
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