What is Risotto?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Risotto is an Italian rice dish that can be time-consuming to prepare in the traditional way. When prepared well, it has a rich, creamy texture, with each individual grain of rice standing out clearly and having a hint of a bite, rather than being soft or mushy. Some Italian restaurants offer risotto, and it is also possible to make this dish at home. Many grocers also sell boxed versions, with the claim that cooks can just add water or broth, although purists believe that this results in an inferior product.

Garlic, which is often used to make risotto.
Garlic, which is often used to make risotto.

Making risotto is a complicated process. It starts with frying rice, onions, herbs, and garlic in oil, butter, or a mixture of the two until everything is evenly coated and slightly translucent. Then, white wine is splashed in and the mixture is continually stirred until the wine has evaporated. Next, broth is added in small amounts at a time, while the cook continues to stir the rice. As the broth evaporates, more is added, with the entire process taking around 20 minutes from the time the wine hits the pan.

Different types of rice, including risotto rice.
Different types of rice, including risotto rice.

Once the rice is perfectly cooked, with a slightly chewy texture, the risotto is pulled off the heat and freshly grated cheese is quickly mixed in. The result is a dish with a creamy flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Typically, a small amount of broth remains, and some cooks add a little bit of butter to make their risotto even creamier. The dish is typically served on its own, often as a starter.

Butter is used in making risotto.
Butter is used in making risotto.

Precise recipes for risotto vary. Some cooks add meats, seafood, or vegetables during the pan-frying process, creating a more hearty dish. Saffron is a commonly used herb, but risotto can also feature oregano, thyme, parsley, and other ingredients. Traditionally, it is made with Italian arborio rice, a medium grain rice which is widely cultivated in Italy.

Pumpkin risotto.
Pumpkin risotto.

The term is closely related to the Italian “riso,” or “rice.” Rice was apparently introduced to Italy by Middle Easterners, with the earliest risotto recipe dating to the 1500s, reflecting the venerability of this dish. The dish is primarily prepared in Northern Italy, with each individual region having a specific traditional recipe.

A risotto dish may feature herbs such as parsley.
A risotto dish may feature herbs such as parsley.

Risotto is a traditional dish that is surrounded by a lot of controversy among cooks. Some cooks insist that the painstaking preparation method detailed above is the only “real” way to prepare it, and that any other cooking technique results in an inferior product. Others believe that it is possible to cut a few corners when making risotto and still come up with a perfectly presentable dish.

Onions and garlic are typically sauteed in olive oil to begin the process of making risotto.
Onions and garlic are typically sauteed in olive oil to begin the process of making risotto.
Salmon risotto is a popular version of seafood risotto.
Salmon risotto is a popular version of seafood risotto.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon48611

Risotto is awesome. The store brand sucks. add water. That's stupid!

bestcity

With some vegetable and a little meat or fish risotto can be a perfect one dish meal.

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