Risotto 101

Risotto, a classic Italian dish where a short grain rice is cooked slowly in broth, is a wonderful and versatile vegetarian main course or a great side dish.   Once you have the basics of risotto-making, you can use risotto as a venue for all kinds of vegetables and vegetable combinations.  Mushrooms and spring vegetables are common themes for many risottos, but you can certainly branch out and get creative.  I love making a carrot and ginger risotto with coconut milk, or (as below) a beautiful red beet risotto.

 beet risotto

I apologize in advance that this is a long post, but I think that it conveys the finer points of risotto-making.  If all of this just seems like a major pain in butt to you, then allow me to direct you to a recipe for “cheaters risotto“.

1. Equipment:

There are three main pieces of equipment that you need to make risotto.  First, you need a good heavy pan.  In my opinion, you just can’t beat an enameled cast iron pan/ dutch oven for making risotto.  Because risotto cooks slowly and requires a good deal of stirring, you want a pan that will distribute heat evenly and not have hot spots that cause the rice to stick.  I have had my cast iron risotto pan for ~8 years and I use it on a weekly basis for making risottos and soups.  The one I have is no longer made, and when I went on Amazon.com to look at what is out there today, I was surprised at how pricey they are.  If you want fancy French Staub or La Creuset, you are looking at upwards of $250.  However, I found this Lodge pan with good reviews at a more moderate price of $81.  If you don’t have an enameled cast iron pan, you can certainly use a regular metal pan, but you may need to be more diligent about stirring.  A enameled cast iron pan is a good investment though.  There are many uses for a good dutch oven, and properly cared-for, it will last a long time.  I do not put mine in the dishwasher.

In addition to a good pan, you need a long-handled wooden spoon and a ladle, preferably one that is heat resistant.  Oxo and Kitchen Aid make good ones.

2. Ingredients:

Risotto is made with short grain rice with a high starch content.  Arborio rice is the most well-know risotto rice.  Long grain rice is not a good substitute in this dish as it will not yield the desired creamy texture that risotto is known for.

Because risotto is cooked in broth, make sure that you choose a flavorful one, because that will be your flavoring for the rice.  I’m a big fan of the Superior Touch Not Chicken Base.  Make sure that your broth is not too salty, and be sure to check the finished product for seasoning.  I typically add very little salt to risotto since the broth I use is sufficiently salted.

 3. Method

The basic method for cooking risotto is create a base of some sauteed aromatics.  I usually use onion and garlic, and depending on the particular risotto I am making, sometimes celery, leek or fennel.

The aromatics are cooked in fat (olive oil, butter, margarine, or even coconut oil) and then the rice is added to fat and vegetable mixture so that the grains have a chance to lightly toast and become coated with the fat prior to the introduction of liquid.

Once the rice grains have been coated, the pan is deglazed, typically with white wine.  You could, however, use another liquid to deglaze, like some of your broth.

Once the pan is deglazed and the wine has started to absorb into the rice, it’s time to begin adding the broth.  It is important that the broth that you add to the risotto is hot.  Adding cold broth to the risotto will continue to bring down the cooking temperature and slow down the cooking process.  You will want to keep your broth at a simmer in a separate pan on the stove while you are making the risotto.

Broth is added to the risotto one ladle at a time and each ladle of broth is allowed to absorb into the rice prior to the next one being added.  Now don’t get me wrong, the risotto doesn’t need to become dry prior to adding more broth, but the idea is to add the broth slowly and stir the rice often to allow the starches in the rice to develop the creamy texture that the dish is known for.  Typically, you will need to add about 4 cups of broth for every one cup of rice used, with a final yield of 3 cups of risotto per 1 cup of rice.

Risotto typically takes about 20-30 minutes to cook.  You need to keep that in mind when adding vegetables and other ingredients.  If you are making a shrimp and pea risotto, and you add the shrimp and peas when you start adding the broth, you are going to end up with something more closely resembling rubber than shrimp, and some pretty darn mushy peas.  Add additional ingredients according to how long they actually need to cook.  When in doubt, you can always cook your vegetables to their desired texture outside of the risotto and stir them into the risotto AFTER it is cooked.  Cheeses and herbs should generally be added at the very end of the cooking process.

Many risotto recipes call for the addition of parmesan cheese, cream, or additional butter at the very end of the cooking process.  While these are all fine additions, keep in mind that they are not necessary.  You can make an excellent risotto that is dairy free and vegan.

Here is an excellent example of a vegan risotto that can be served with optional cheese or yogurt for garnish, or simply with herbs or nuts to keep it strictly vegan.

 beet risotto

Beet Risotto

This is a delicious and eye-catching dish that is a great holiday side or vegetarian main course.
Total Time30 minutes
Servings: 3


  • ~4 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 TBSP margarine butter or olive oil (I like Earth Balance)
  • 1/2 yellow onion finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic minced
  • 1 cup of arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigo
  • 1 large or two small beets, peeled and grated
  • 1 TBSP chopped fresh dill plus additional dill sprigs for garnish
  • salt and pepper

Optional garnishes

  • crumbled goat cheese
  • horseradish cream made by combining 1/2 cup greek yogurt with 1 TBSP prepared horseradish


  • Heat broth in a medium saucepan on low heat until simmering.
  • Heat margarine or oil on medium heat in a large pot or dutch oven.
  • Add onion and garlic and cook untill vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes.
  • Add rice to vegetables and stir to coat rice with fat and lightly toast rice, about 2 minutes.
  • Add wine to deglaze pan and cook, stirring often, until it is mostly absorbed into the rice.
  • Add beets and stir to combine.
  • Reduce heat to medium low and add one ladle of hot broth to rice and beet mixture and cook and stir until liquid is mostly absorbed.
  • Continue to add broth, one ladle at a time, stirring frequently, until rice is cooked to "al dente". The rice should be creamy, yet provide resistance to the tooth and not be mushy.
  • Remove risotto from heat and stir in dill.
  • Serve immediately with optional garnishes (if using).


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