01 May 2023

Risotto (Tips and Tricks)


Risotto is one of our family's comfort foods.  In the realm of Italian Foods, this ranks right up there with Pizza, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  It may even outrank them since risotto often means Supplì are not far behind. 

I have a basic recipe that can be changed depending on what you are serving with it, or what is on hand. I would not say we are "strict traditionalists" when it comes to risotto, but that does not mean I am not full of strong opinions!  I do reject a fair bit of modern notions when it comes to risotto; why fix what isn't broken?  I do not like a lot of the fusion recipes out there but to each their own. I reject the notion of Risotto alla Carbonara.  While we are at it... why do some people put cream and peas in their Spaghetti alla Carbonara! It is so wrong. Sorry.  There are some choices we make because of who we are feeding, or what we will be doing with the risotto, and there are some choices we make because it's just better.

Use Carnaroli Rice.

Yes, Arborio Rice is the most available, and it's fine... it's just fine.  I enjoy this article: 3 Types of Rice to Use for Risotto (and Which to Skip).  I agree with the assessment of Carnaroli rice.  The biggest reason I like it is that it is very forgiving.  I usually have the kids help, particularly in ladling and stirring in the broth.  Arborio goes from perfect to mushy very quickly, in my opinion, whereas Carnaroli can take a lot more liquid before it moves away from al dente.

Use the Right Wine.

Un-oaked dry white wine... unless you use something else.    Honestly, there are a lot of choices.  You want to use some sort of alcohol to dissolve alcohol-soluble flavors... and just make it all taste good.  If in doubt, use a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio.  Both are very good, and good bottles are not real expensive.  Do NOT use cheap cooking wine.  Use something that you would be willing to drink by itself. 2 Buck Chuck is borderline, depending on the day.  Avoid Chardonnay, it's too oaky.  Leftover Champagne is a great choice, just nothing too sweet, and then you would call it Risotto allo Champagne.  Barolo or another dry red is another great choice... then you would have Risotto al Barolo.

Use Quality Ingredients.

Risotto is, at its essence, a method of concentrating flavors into the rice.  You have to remember that whatever you use, is going to get distilled down and concentrated.  If you use cheap stuff, it will taste cheap.  That is not to say you have to make it super expensive either.  Use homemade broth, fresh vegetables, good wine, and nice cheese.  I would recommend Bon Appetit's Vegetable Stock Recipe and a combination of Michael Ruhlman's and Judy Rodgers's recipes for broth.

In the above picture, I am using dried garlic and shallots.  I have two reasons for this.  First and foremost... I couldn't be bothered to cut up fresh ones.  Second... Sometimes I prefer dried spices for their consistency, especially if I am going to make Supplì with the Risotto.  I do rehydrate them in some wine, and they work just fine... if you use quality spices.


Mise en place

I can not emphasize how important it is to get everything together before you start.  The first thing I do is get my broth heating.  Salt and Pepper the broth to taste. I get the cheese grated, and if I am using dried stuff, I start that soaking in wine.  When the broth is hot, I pour a little into a cup with a pinch of saffron.

Il Soffritto

Lightly cook the Onion, Garlic, and Shallot in a little butter or olive oil till soft and fragrant.

La Tostatura

At this point, you can add the rice.  You want to draw moisture out of the rice, so you can get maximum flavor INTO the rice, and you want a little bit of toastiness to it.  If it starts smelling like popcorn kernels, you are going to far... add the wine right away.  There is some debate on this.  Some places say you want the rice to take on color... so cook 7-10 minutes.  Some say to say only coat with oil and then add wine.  I am in the 2-5 minute camp.  I look for the outside of the rice to become translucent.

(not my picture... it was floating unclaimed out in the forums on the internet)

Lo Sfumato

This is my second favorite part.  Add the wine.  I feel like this adds more flavor in one punch than anything else.  The pan gets deglazed, alcohol-soluble flavors get... dissolved and stuff... and the rice absorbs it all.  You want the wine to be all but completely absorbed at this step.

La Cottura

This is where I most value my helpers.  My 10-year-old is just about completely trained in the art of stirring risotto.  I know people, a couple of my sisters included, who will use the oven method of making risotto, and I am sure it is very tasty... but I think risotto should be stirred for a superior taste and texture. You want to be stirring often, but not constantly.
The broth is added a little at a time, kept at a gentle simmer.  The first bit will be the most, and you want it to cover the top as pictured above.  Note I am using chicken broth this time, that is what I had.  Some people will say Risotto alla Milanese should only use beef broth.  I have seen a lot of contradicting recipes.  If it is Lent, we might even use Vegetable Broth... scandalous... I know.  If you are not adding saffron to make it alla Milanese then you can throw tradition to the wind and use whatever will compliment your meal.

When the broth gets low, add more.  Around the second time adding broth, also add the broth that has been soaking the saffron.

After 10 minutes of cooking, start checking the risotto for doneness.  The grains will get plump, and change opaqueness to be very consistent all the way through.  When you stir, you will go from feeling like you are stirring through pebbles, to stirring soup.  Finally, the taste will go from gritty to firm.  You don't want mushy.  Carnaroli rice is very forgiving, so if you are a little unsure, it is fine to add a titch more liquid and try again in a couple minutes.  Al dente is the key here.  You may need to add some hot water if you run out of broth.  This is ok!

La Mantecatura

If you are following along at home and say, "Hey, what about Il Riposo?"  You would be right, and I would ask you why you are bothering to read this, you are already learned in the ways of risotto!  Traditionally there would be a short rest of a few minutes, before adding the last flavorings... but I am not super patient and I just push past it.

At this point, off the heat, add your cheese, fat, and parsley.  Stir vigorously.  If I am making this for the whole family, we use sheep's milk Pecorino Romano, because we have a daughter that has cow dairy issues.  We have had good luck with Earth Balance butter substitute.  If it is just the two of us, I use butter and whatever hard Italian cheese is in the fridge.  Yes, I know the fake stuff should be frowned upon, but it is the difference between her not being able to enjoy this dish or it being too dry.  Salt and Pepper to taste again, and maybe add some granulated garlic if you feel like it.

...What to do with the leftovers... if you have any?  Supplì al Telefono!



Olive Oil
Shallots chopped (or 3 tsp dry)
Garlic cloves minced (or 3 tsp dry)
1 Small Onion chopped small (or 1 1/2 tbsp dry)
1 1/2 cups Carnaroli Rice (or another short-grained Italian rice)
1 cup dry white Wine
4-5+ cups good broth (32 oz store-bought... if you must)
Pinch of Saffron (Optional)
3/4 cup Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Grana Padano, or Asiago)
Nob of Butter (or Bone Marrow, or Butter Substitute)
Fresh cracked Pepper
1 tbsp Parsley


  1. Heat broth in a small saucepan till simmering.  Season with Salt and Pepper to taste.  Turn heat to low.
  2. Set everything out.  Hydrate dried herbs in wine.  Soak saffron in about 1/2 cup of hot broth.
  3. Coat a medium-sized saucier or saucepan with a generous amount of olive oil. Heat over medium flame.
  4. Saute onion till starts to color, add garlic and shallots and cook till fragrant.
  5. Toast rice with vegetables till coated and edges are transparent.
  6. Pour in wine and stir.  Occasionally stir while the rice absorbs the wine.
  7. When wine is absorbed, add broth about a cup at a time, allowing it to partially absorb between ladles.
  8. Add cup of broth with saffron with the second ladle of broth. Stir often but not constantly.
  9. Cook risotto till al dente.  Some resistance is good, grittiness is bad.
  10. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and butter till creamy.  Season to taste. Stir in parsley and serve.

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