Making risotto is so much easier than you think

No more risotto gatekeeping! While it may require a little extra time, risotto can still be a weeknight meal

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published July 2, 2023 1:30PM (EDT)

Making Risotto (Getty Images/Matt Lincoln)
Making Risotto (Getty Images/Matt Lincoln)

Abbondanza — Italian for "abundance" — is a bi-monthly column from writer Michael La Corte in which the author shares his tips for making traditional Italian-American recipes even better.

In recent years, an odd narrative has taken hold, perhaps bolstered by cooking competition shows, which has remained in the general cooking discourse for some time now. But I'm here to stop it. Hunker down, because here it comes: Risotto is not that hard. 

Might I even propose that the classic northern Italian rice dish is actually generally straight-forward — and even a great weeknight meal option? 

I know, I know, this is not par for the course; please relax your arms and put the tomatoes down. 

Making risotto at home shouldn't be treated as such a gargantuan feat. Truthfully, in no more than 45 minutes — or conversely, as quickly as 18 minutes — you can have restaurant-worthy, silky risotto with whatever mix-ins or toppings you so decree.

It doesn't call for many ingredients, of course: typically just butter, oil, alliums, a grain (typically rice), wine, broth or stock, Parmigiano Reggiano (or a comparable cheese) and salt and pepper. Even though, yes, you may need a bit more elbow grease than you typically associate with weeknight cooking, I've never grasped why risotto has become such a culinary bogeyman for so many people. Relatively recent innovations, like the Instant Pot, have made weeknight risotto even more possible; several of our staff members swear by this method, which takes the arm workout out of the process. Instead cooks can use the machine's Sauté setting to soften aromatics in butter, then add the rice, stock and a little wine before turning up the heat. Dinner is ready in just a few minutes — no stirring required. 

Don't have an instant Pot? Some even opt for an oven risotto, but that's not my forte. I'm good with my pot and wooden spoon. For me, half of the enjoyment of cooking is, you guessed it, cooking. If everything on earth becomes "set it and forget it," then where's the fun in that? 

If you'd like to learn how to properly make risotto and put aside all of your unwarranted jitters, then look no further. The worst risotto outcome is anything gluey or "tacky," so follow these steps to avoid that calamitous result. 

At its core, risotto should be fragrant, incredibly rich and smooth, but consist of easily decipherable grains of rice. The finished risotto should flow together, but not be an amorphous blob of rice a la poorly-made rice pudding. 

Risotto should have some viscosity, but when you plate it on a plate or in a bowl, it should move or flatten a bit — not be stiff or immovable. This is called all'onda in Italian, which is the term for the fluidity your finished risotto should show on the plate, like a "wave." It's the perfect consistency: not too brothy, not too stodgy. By no means should you ever rinse your rice grains prior to getting started! That starch is a necessary ingredient in risotto which helps to ensure that classically creamy end product. 

You can use a deep pot or a wide skillet, really — either works. You must opt for Carnaroli or Arborio rice; don't use just any random rice in your pantry. Also, it should always be noted that risotto isn't limited to rice! From barley to farro (which Anne Burrell coined as "farrotto," something I've always gotten a kick out of) there are grains galore that can be made in a risotto-like fashion. 

Ensure your mise en place (French for "putting in place," meaning you have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go prior to your even turning the burner on) is ready and good to go, because once you get moving, you don't want to stray too far from the stove. Also, keep your broth warmed in a saucepan over low heat; you don't want to add ice-cold stock or broth, which will cause lots of wonky issues with overcooked or undercooked rice grains, overly-starchy risotto or gummy kernels.

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Make sure you're cutting your garlic, onions or shallots to about the same size as the rice kernels. Don't forget a good glug of wine prior to adding the stock. Use high-quality Parmigiano Reggiano, ideally freshly grated. Be sure that your heat doesn't go any higher than medium-low or medium — you don't want the heat too high or the stock or broth will cook out before the rice is actually cooked through.

Risotto, of course, also benefits from ample mix-ins, toppings or garnishes;  honestly, I find a plain bowl of risotto to be so unexciting texturally and consistency-wise. So, if adding other ingredients, such as mushroom or peas or leeks, be sure to add them at the proper times. I.e peas need maybe 2 minutes of cooking whereas the mushrooms would need much more time. Use the best quality stock and make sure to add your stock gradually, allowing the rice to plump and cook with each addition and then adding another ladle-full once the pan is slightly dryer. 

The Italian methodology always sounds beautiful and is an excellent roadmap: soffritto, tostare, sfumatura, brodo/cottura and mantecatura. The breakdown is essentially as such:

  • Soffritto: diced onion cooking in butter/oil
  • Tostare: toasting the rice
  • Sfumatura: adding and reducing the wine
  • Brodo/cottura: adding the broth or stock gradually and stirring
  • Mantecatura: finishing by adding butter, cheese and/or whipped cream 

Yes, you should be stirring quite often in order to help release the starch from the rice, which will combine with the warm stock as it's added. Don't over-stir, though! You may think that you should be incessantly stirring, but really, every 30 seconds or so is best. Aim for a good, hearty stir twice a minute for about 15 minutes — that sounds much more manageable, right?

In most cases, you shouldn't need more than 20 to 25 minutes, depending on your mix-ins and toppings. There's a tangible, almost comforting or meditative component to the stirring. Don't dunk on it — you might wind up enjoying the 20-minute arm exercise. 

Ideally, you want your risotto to be slightly al dente, too — and you never want to forget to whip in lots of butter and Parmigiano Reggiano at the very end. And when I say whip, I mean whip. Don't be sheepish.

Finally, be sure to add your finishing touches off the heat. I love the addition of unsweetened whipped cream at the end, too, which adds a lovely heft and lightness. 

And would you look at that? You now have a bowl of perfect, sumptuous risotto. Decorate it as you please: some fresh herbs, some sautéed mushrooms, braised leeks, warming spices, a drizzle of mascarpone — or just salt and pepper. A vegetable, or even roasted fruit, puree stirred in afterwards can be a great addition, too. 

As long as you're no longer afraid to make this iconic dish at home, my work here is done. 

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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