I love to make risottos because they are really easy, and once you get past the basic of rice, broth and cheese you can add anything into the mix. There is an endless selection of vegetables and meats (and vegetarian/vegan options) that you can choose from to put in your risotto!

Photo by Morgan Klein
The Basics

Choosing a rice–
There are several different kinds of rice that you can use for risotto. Short and thin grain rices don’t seem to work as well, but if you’re in a rush, you can use the white rice from your leftovers to make a sort of rice pilaf/risotto dish very easily. The two kinds of rice that I would stick with, however are Arborio rice or Carnaroli Rice. These are the only two that I have ever used before, I think there are a few other options, but they don’t come to mind right now.

Choosing a liquid–
In order to make risotto, you toast the rice in a bit of oil or butter, and then you continuously add and reduce a liquid to slowly cook the rice. There are two types of liquid that are generally used, and one of them is optional. The first is some kind of broth, stock, or water. I wouldn’t suggest using water, if you’re a vegetarian, use vegetable stock, if you’re not and you aren’t making the dish for vegetarians, use chicken stock. You need a separate saucepan for the liquid since you will keep it warm, and ladle it in one half cup at a time as you slowly cook the rice. The second liquid that is often used in risottos is wine. You can use a non-alcoholic, non-sparkling wine if you do not drink alcohol, otherwise you only need a 1/4 – a 1/2 cup of wine, so either use the end of your bottle, or drink the rest with dinner. Alcohol is not a necessary component in a risotto, and if you choose not to include it, make sure you make up the liquid amount with your broth.

Choosing a cheese–
Depending on the other ingredients in your risotto, and your recipe, the cheese may be obvious, or already chosen, but there are two textures of cheese that are generally used in risotto. The first is a creamy cheese, like mascarpone or even cream cheese in some cases. I know that there is a vegan substitute with Tofutti products, and you may consider these if you are lactose intolerant or vegan. The other is usually a hard cheese in grated form. I have never heard of soft cheeses being grated (beyond mozzarella, but I’ve never used mozzarella in a risotto), so avoid those. Parmesan and other like-cheeses are usually the ones used in risottos, and also used when serving a risotto. I do not know if there is a hard cheese that is made for vegans or lactose intolerants, but if there is, try it and use it if you’d like.

Choosing a flavor–
The simplest form of risotto is just rice, broth, cheese, wine and saffron. Saffron is the most expensive spice, and I will write another blog with my saffron risotto recipe at a later date, but if you are putting together your own risotto with vegetables, meat, fish, or poultry, you want to consider what spices you will use.

The Recipe

I originally got this recipe from Sunset Magazine, but I have changed some of the ingredients, and some of the way it is cooked, because this recipe is just too confusing for me. My notes are alongside the original recipe, copied here.
6-8 Servings

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (You can use olive oil for more flavor)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 6 medium carrots, peeled and chopped as finely and evenly as possible (about 3 cups) I use purple carrots. You can find them in specialized grocery stores, possibly Whole Foods, I know I buy mine at Berkeley Bowl, a market here in the East Bay, and I have seen them at some farmer’s markets
  • About 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (this can be excluded if you cook the carrots a bit longer, but if you’d like to use fake-sugar to get a bit of sweetness, it might help)
  • 5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1/3 cup minced onion
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (or Carnaroli)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I use a Sav. Blanc, Charles Shaw is fine)
  • 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese (or Toffuti cream cheese if you are vegan/L.I.)
  • 1/4 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese, plus 1/2 cup for garnish (See notes above about cheese)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 1 tbsp. for garnish (Basil could also work, but parsley is great, my friend Mary doesn’t like parsley, so I would probably use basil instead in that instance)
  • 1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh thyme (Can be bought mostly anywhere. If you can’t find fresh thyme, use 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme, but it’s better if it is fresh)
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Let’s make a Risotto!

1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil and 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat in a medium heavy-bottomed pot; add carrots and stir with a wooden spoon until well coated. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the sugar; cover and cook 5 minutes, or until tender. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown, a few minutes more. (Reserve half of the carrots. In a blender, purée other half with 3/4 cup hot water.)*

* I never do this step, I leave the carrots whole because I like how they distribute throughout the rice. I forgot to do this blender step the first time I made this risotto, and it is an un-missed step.

2. Bring chicken broth to a simmer and keep at a simmer, covered, over low heat.

3. Heat remaining oil and butter over medium heat in same (unwashed) pot used for carrots. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add rice, stirring with a wooden spoon to coat rice with oil, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until wine evaporates. Add carrots and mix together with the rice. Your rice will start to turn purple, because purple carrots have the same effect as beets.

4. Add 1/2 cup hot broth, stirring often, until rice absorbs most of the liquid. Repeat process, adding 1/2 cup broth at a time and stirring often till each addition is absorbed before adding the next, until rice is al dente (about 20 minutes; at least 1 cup broth will remain).

*I usually cook the risotto longer, but not too long, just long enough. Usually the last steps in a heated pan do not cook the rice much more because the cheese makes the mixture very sticky and doesn’t allow the liquid to get through and cook, it just reduces in the pan. If you cook the risotto too long, all of your grains will be well cooked, but you will have a very mushy mixture, but if you cook it just slightly longer, most of your grains will be cooked perfectly, and you won’t have to worry about biting into hard grains.

5. Fold in mascarpone, 1/4 cup parmesan, 1 tbsp. parsley, and the thyme. Add up to 1 cup broth (1/4 cup at a time) to loosen the risotto. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

6. Sprinkle each bowl of risotto with some of remaining 1/2 cup parmesan, and remaining 1 tbsp. parsley. Serve immediately.

I served this particular cooking of it with some roasted asparagus that my friend Morgan made. I don’t remember what he did exactly, but the general rule for roasting asparagus is enough olive oil, salt, and pepper, and if you’re in the mood for it, a little lemon juice, to gently coat the veggies, tossed onto a foil-wrapped baking sheet in a 500º oven for 5-10 minutes.

Love and Happy Spatulas,

Alyssa 🙂