The risotto is ready when the rice is al dente (when it still has a bit of chew) and the dish has the consistency of thick porridge. If you run your spatula through the risotto, the risotto flow slowly to fill in the space.
Risotto is a dish that's become associated with fancy high end restaurants, but really, it's the epitome of Italian home cooking and comfort food. Knowing how to make a good risotto is something we think every cook should have in their back pocket, if only because it's one of those dishes that's so satisfying and easy to prepare, and it never fails to impress.
Risotto also has a reputation for being fussy and time-consuming. It's true that once you start cooking, it does require a fair amount of attention, but it doesn't take more than a 30 minutes to make. In fact, true Italian cooks will tell you that risotto should take no more than 18 to 19 minutes from start to finish. One of our chefs in culinary school made us time him, and sure enough, his risotto was done in exactly 18 1/2 minutes every single time!
Risotto is more of a technique than a dish. Once you get a feel for the basic steps of making the soffrito, toasting the rice, and adding in the broth a scoop at a time, a whole world of dishes opens up. You can add caramelized onions, ribbons of swiss chard, bits of sausage, wild mushrooms from the farmers market, or any other combination of flavors and textures suits your fancy. You can even play around with using grains other than rice for making the risotto itself.
One thing is crucial for a good risotto: have everything ready before you step up to the stove. That include the rice, the wine, your add-ins and the bowls to serve it in. Risotto waits for no one and is perfect the second it's done.
How To Make Risotto
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
1 small onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice
1/2 cup white wine
6-8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cheese (Parmesan is classic, but you can use any kind)
High-sided sauté pan (at least 10" diameter) or dutch oven
Ladle or measuring scoop
1. Risotto Prep - Measure, chop, and gather all of the ingredients going into your risotto. Warm the broth in a saucepan over low heat. It should be just barely steaming by the time you start the risotto.
2. Soffrito - This is the flavor base of your risotto. It almost always includes onions, but you can add any other aromatics, spices, or ingredients you would like. Sauté these ingredients in a healthy amount of butter (which is traditional) or olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion is translucent and beginning to break down. Add the garlic and other spices, and cook until fragrant.
3. Tostatura - Pour the rice into the soffrito and stir until every grain is coated with fat. (Add more fat if needed - this is not the time to skimp!) Continue stirring the rice until the edges have turned translucent but the center is still opaque. You should also be able to smell the aroma of toasted rice.
4. Deglaze - Deglazing the pan at this point isn't strictly necessary, but a splash of white wine will add another layer of flavor and help lift up any bits that have caramelized to the pan. Use a 1/2 cup or so of wine, and simmer until the wine has completely reduced and the pan is nearly dry.
5. Cottura - Begin incrementally adding the warm broth one ladle at a time. Wait to add another ladle until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed by the rice. This gradual addition of liquid is key to getting the rice to release its starch and create its own delicious sauce, so don't rush this step. Ideally, you want to use just enough broth to cook the rice and no more.
Begin tasting the rice after about 12 minutes to gauge how far it has cooked. Add salt and other seasonings as needed. The risotto is ready when the rice is al dente (when it still has a bit of chew) and the dish has the consistency of thick porridge. If you run your spatula through the risotto, the risotto flow slowly to fill in the space. As the Italians say, risotto should be like "la onda," a wave that slowly rolls to shore.
6. Mantecatura - As a final step, add one more ladle of broth along with one or two tablespoons of butter and a cup of cheese to enrich the risotto and make it extra-creamy.
Serve the risotto immediately. The longer it stands, the more the starches will set and you'll lose the creamy silkiness.
More on risotto:
• Spring Lemon Risotto with Asparagus and Fiddlehead Ferns • Red Pepper, Sausage, and Swiss Chard Risotto • Baked Mushroom Risotto with Caramelized Onions • How to Make Risotto in a Rice Cooker • Smart Tip: For Perfect Risotto, Use the Smear Test
A version of this post was originally published 9/19/08.
(Images: Emma Christensen)