September 16, 2011

How to Make the Perfect Risotto

Dear Friend, Once upon a time, I believed risotto to be super swank. The kind of dish that only Italians and the classy folk ate. Once upon a time I didn't cook with butter. True story. To prove me wrong, Mr. H made risotto {with lots of butter}. I was rather shocked when he pulled it off. It's not that I wasn't confident in his kitchen skills. Competent he was. I mean, he was the first person I had met who had single handedly won a puff-pastry throw down. It's merely that I thought one had to be Italian to pull that sort of thing off. Clearly, I was wrong. My second experience with risotto was in Italy. Milan, to be exact. I was sitting across from Mr. H, at a small table fitted with a red checkered table cloth. We were approximately 5 inches away from the neighboring tables, all jammed into a small courtyard like tiny sardines. Very intimate I would say. The candles were blowing, the wine was flowing, my neighbors cigarette smoke had begun to drift up my nostrils, and then, out of the kitchen came a gorgeous shiny plate of creamy asparagus risotto. Good thing, because I was about to lay the smack down on the guy with cigarettes. Nothing like food to distract you from your anger.

This risotto was creamy with lots of body. The texture was subtle and fluid. The grains were tender without being too soft. Each grain was its own entity. From my experience, risotto takes a bit of practice. You need to make it a few times to understand the process, how it all comes together, and what exactly you are looking for in terms of texture, appearance, and flavor. Mr. H's first risotto was ok. My first risotto was ok. Giada De Laurentiis first risotto was probably just ok. But, after you've cooked it a few times, it becomes like second nature. Magical even. There are a whole slew of risotto recipes out there. 100 Great Risottos is a good resource. The internet is also a great resource. The thing is, once you learn how to make a basic risotto, you can spruce it up any way you like. My favorite is vegetables, cheese, and butter.  I am totally in love with butter, but if you're not a fan, or are looking for a lower fat version, you can add a vegetable puree at the end, to give it the same creamy texture. To make risotto, you need to start off with some fresh ingredients. I always say fresh is best, but that's because I am a nerd. For my risotto, I chose asparagus. You can use mushrooms, peas, tomatoes, sausage, chicken, lobster, sweet potatoes. It's up to you. For this recipe you will need to boil/steam the asparagus until slightly soft. Set to the side and save the cooking water.

Chop up the shallots and fry them on medium heat with half of the butter. They should be translucent and shiny.

Add the rice to the shallots and butter, and toast for 2 minutes. Do not pre-rinse the rice. We need all the starch we can get. It's what gives risotto that delicious texture. Once your rice is toasty, add a ladle full of the asparagus water. If your recipe calls for wine or you're just feeling a little saucy, add it now. Continue to stir the rice, and let the water cook into the rice. Add the next ladle full of asparagus water, and continue this process. Once the asparagus water has been all used, start to add the stock. The key to a good risotto is in the stock. After you've been cooking your rice for 10 minutes or so, add the chopped asparagus. Below is a picture of your risotto, 2 minutes after you have added the first ladle of stock. 

At ten minutes, you should be half way through the liquid. The volume of rice should be double in size.

At twenty minutes, your risotto should be al dente. Not too hard, not too soft. Take it off the stove and add the rest of the butter and the cheese. Stir it vigorously until creamy and let sit, covered, for 3 - 5 minutes. The rice will continue to cook. Risotto should be served immediately for maximum awesomeness. With a little bit of time and care, you too can make a totally awesome risotto fit for the classiest of classes.

makes 4 servings

10 - 12 asparagus spears
1 cup water
dash salt
6 tbsp butter
2 shallots, diced
1 cup dry Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano rice 
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated


1. Wash the asparagus and snap off the ends. Place the asparagus in a frying pan or wok with one cup of water and a generous dash of salt. Boil/steam for 5 minutes until just tender. Once done, set to the side and save the cooking liquid.  

2. In a large pot or wok, on low heat, saute the diced shallots with 3 tbsp butter until soft and translucent {approximately 5 minutes}. In this step you are making the soffritto, the aromatic flavor base.

3. Add the arborio rice and stir. Toast {tostatura in Italian} the rice with the butter and shallots for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure it does not burn.

4. Add the left over asparagus water, a quarter cup at a time. Cook until the water has been absorbed, and then add the next quarter cup, making sure to stir every minute or so. At this time you can turn the heat to medium and add the chopped asparagus.

5. Once you have used all the asparagus water, continue the same process with the vegetable stock until it is all used up. It should take roughly 20 minutes. Remember to continue stirring.

6. Once the rice has cooked, take it off the heat. Add the butter and the cheese, and stir until creamy. Let it sit covered for 3 - 5 minutes. Risotto should be served immediately.


  1. will definitely use this post to guide me the next time i decide to make risotto. this is beyond delicious and your steps are well constructed!

    xoxo <3

  2. Thanks Kelsey. Risotto is divine. You will be thoroughly satisfied.

  3. I agree - risotto definitely takes time and practice. I've made it a lot of me and the boyfriend and I finally feel like I've started to perfect the technique. I usually make mushroom risotto but I'll have to try it with asparagus next time!

  4. Stephanie - mushroom risotto is also super delish!

  5. Your photographs are breathtaking! (Yes, I know that 'breathless' is usually a word to describe landscape photographs, but that's exactly how I feel...)

    And although, to be honest, I'm not much of a risotto person, but yours look absolutely scrumptious!

  6. Rachel Steiner20 January, 2013

    Just made this tonight! amazing! :) I have already gone through your entire blog and picked out so many recipes to make. Thank you for the recipes and the beautiful images that go along with them. I really enjoy your blog. I check it all the time!

  7. This is a pretty standard risotto recipe so I would say there would be no problem with substituting arborio rice. I've made it a few times, and the directions are accurate.