Silky, creamy risotto is often seen as a labor- and time-intensive cold weather dish, but that needn't be true. A perfectly cooked risotto can be lightly decadent with bright, cheerful flavors for any season. And not only is it easy to customize, you can have it on the table in less than 30 minutes of stove time! Yes, it's true. This simple, classic risotto recipe is my base technique for weeknight-friendly risotto that doesn't sacrifice flavor or texture.
This risotto is very simple in flavor, so the nuttiness of the Parmesan takes center stage. Unlike some recipes, however, this classic risotto manages to maintain its rich flavors (cheese! butter!) without feeling heavy or stodgy. It's a wonderful base recipe to serve as-is or to gussy up with other ingredients.
If you, like many people, think that perfectly creamy, al dente risotto relies on gradually adding broth a ladle at a time, while stirring slowly and constantly, then you might be surprised to find that it's all a myth. Be liberated, fellow rice-lover, and welcome to a reality in which weeknight risotto can be an everyday occurrence!
I will be explaining this more in-depth in my newsletter, but in the meantime, take a look at Kenji's approach to quick and easy risotto. As you will see, my method is pretty similar, with a few key differences. This is important because there is no right or wrong way to risotto! If you like the low and slow method, great! There is nothing technically wrong with it, as long as you are happy with the final result. But let me ask you this: have you ever NOT made risotto because it felt like too much of a time/labor commitment? My approach to simple, classic risotto helps to solve that conundrum.
This particular easy risotto recipe is meant to be as bare-bones as possible while still being utterly delicious. The goal here is to focus on technique, giving you an easy and reliable template for your own flavors and extras. Once you're familiar with the basic ingredients it's easy to get playful, even when tossing together a quick weeknight meal after a long day.
- Carnaroli or Arborio Rice
- These are both medium grain rice. Carnaroli is my preference--after the hundreds of batches I've made in test kitchens (and at home!) I find that it retains its texture better than Arborio, which is more prone to turning mushy. If it's your first time making risotto, it's nice to have Carnaroli as a helpful safety net.
- It's worth noting, you can use any medium-grain rice, or even short grain rice, regardless of where it's from. It doesn't have to be Italian "risotto rice." The important thing is size, so if you already have a lovely medium grain Japanese rice in your pantry, use that!
- Vegetable Stock or Broth
- I highly recommend homemade broth because boxed broths tend to be overly carroty and cloying. As a result, they completely overpower the delicate flavors of the risotto. If you're using boxed broth, see Substitutions for my suggestions on how to adjust it.
- I use vegetable broth because I find that meat-based broths often yield heavier, stodgier flavored risotto. If choosing meat-based, choose a light stock.
- Parmesan Cheese
- Finely grated cheese melts into the brothy rice to help turn it creamy and silky. Use freshly grated, good quality cheese--it will have a significant impact on the final flavor, so using the cheap stuff will be noticeable.
- White Balsamic Vinegar
- White balsamic is slightly less acidic than white wine vinegar, with a touch of sweetness. Adding a splash at the end of cooking wakes up the whole pot and balances the richness beautifully. Don't be afraid of it! It's one of the key elements that separates good risotto from heavy, stodgy risotto.
(See recipe card for quantities.)
Basic Method (video)
Risotto is not the laborious project that most people think it is. You don't have to tediously add broth ladle by ladle, stirring slowly and constantly as if to sneak up on the perfect texture. Yes, you do need to keep an eye on it, but once you add your first dump of broth you're only 15 minutes away from eating! I go more in-depth into the "whys" in my newsletter, but here is a helpful video to help you achieve weeknight-friendly risotto.
- 0:00 Intro
- 0:33 Ingredients
- 0:53 Toast your rice
- Generally, you're looking for the grains of rice to turn transparent around the edges but I usually just wait for the aroma of the rice to bloom, which only takes a couple of minutes.
- 1:02 Add your broth and stir briskly
- Add most of the broth right away, then bring to a rapid simmer and stir briskly. There's absolutely no need to tediously add just one ladle at a time.
- 1:23 After 8 minutes of frequent stirring
- After about 8 minutes, your rice will be noticeably more tender, but your risotto will still look soupy.
- 1:41 Adjustment phase
- After adding a final splash of broth, continue stirring over medium heat until the rice is just shy of al dente and the sauce is just slightly looser than ideal. If your rice is too firm, add more broth and continue cooking. If the overall texture is too thick, add more broth to loosen.
- 1:58 Remove from heat
- Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, salt, and vinegar.
- 3:20 Adjust seasoning
- Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and vinegar. You can also finish with some freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Hint: Don't forget to take the pot off the heat before adding cheese and butter! The residual heat of the rice will quickly and gently melt both ingredients, but if left on the heat you risk having your cheese clump.
I wrote this recipe to be a proper, classic Italian risotto recipe. That means it is written to give you the textbook "perfect" texture referred to as all'ondo: like a wave. When spooned onto a warm plate, Italian risotto should flow like lava. When stirred, it moves like a cresting wave. The individual grains of rice will also be slightly al dente. They should be tender, but have a firm enough core that they don't become gluey and lose their definition.
This is how I like it, but you are allowed to have different preferences. Here is how to customize this classic risotto recipe (and all my risotto recipes) to suit your taste.
- Looser Consistency - for a soupier texture, similar to risi e bisi, add more broth in step 3 or just before stirring in the cheese and butter.
- Firmer Consistency - for a thicker texture, the kind that stays in a slightly sticky mound on your plate, omit the extra ½ cup of broth in step 3. Only add more in ¼ cup increments if your rice is not cooked through.
- Softer Rice Grains - for soft grains with no discernable tooth, creeping nearer to the broken rice texture of a jook or congee, add ¾ cup of broth in step 3 and cook for longer than the time indicated. Continue adding broth bit by bit until you are happy with the texture of the rice grains.
- Firmer Rice Grains - for even firmer rice grains, reduce the broth to ¼ cup in step 3. You will likely need to adjust overall texture with more broth a few tablespoons at a time just before stirring in the cheese and butter.
There are endless variations to risotto. That's part of the fun! Here are some suggestions for making simple pantry swaps for this base recipe. For more specific flavor variations, take a look at all my other risotto recipes.
- Italian "Risotto Rice" - you can use any medium grain or short grain white rice. It does not need to be Italian. Each variety and size absorbs liquid slightly differently, but this can be accommodated by adding a bit more broth or adjusting the cook time.
- Homemade Broth - a homemade broth will produce a lighter, more sophisticated final risotto. If you prefer to use store-bought, I highly recommend diluting it with water. Because most store-bought broths are much more concentrated than homemade, they end up overpowering the rest of the ingredients. I find this to be especially true for vegetable broths, but also for chicken broth. To use store-bought for this recipe start with roughly 3 cups broth diluted with 1 cup water. If using a salty bouillon paste, dilute it even further. I have liked the Better than Bouillon Roasted Vegetable paste reconstituted with 1 teaspoon paste to 4 cups water--that's a mere 25% of the label's recommendation.
- White Balsamic Vinegar - if you can't find white balsamic, or don't want to buy it just for this recipe, use unseasoned rice vinegar, fresh lemon juice, or a good quality white wine vinegar. Keep in mind, both of these lack the natural sweetness of white balsamic, which softens and balances the acidity. Because of this, you should start with a bit less and then add more to taste. (Do not sub regular balsamic!)
As written, this recipe is vegetarian and gluten free. Hopefully it is simple enough to be easily tailored to your personal dietary needs.
- Vegan - this is inherently difficult to make vegan without sacrificing both flavor and texture, but I encourage you to play. Swap vegan butter for regular butter. Try adding some vegan Parmesan alternatives if you can find them in stores. Vegan cheeses are becoming more and more sophisticated, so you may have good results (I have not tested any, FYI).
You can also try adding a splash of cashew cream and omitting the cheese altogether. In this case, you will need to adjust seasoning. You might want to experiment with flavor enhancers like nutritional yeast or msg to make up for losing Parmesan's natural nutty umami.
- Low Lactose - If you are simply limiting lactose, I recommend the vegan butter but keeping the Parmesan. Properly aged Parmesan should be low- to no-lactose because the lactose naturally breaks down as part of the aging process.
Don't be afraid to get creative with your substitutions. Take a look at this seafood risotto with red curry paste and fresh herbs for inspiration!
Equipment can have a big impact on how a recipe turns out. Your stove and oven will function differently, even if they are the exact same model as mine. Differences in pan size and material will also affect things like cooking time, temperature, and moisture loss.
- For this recipe, I recommend using a 2-quart saucepan and a flat-edged wooden spoon. The flat edge of the spoon helps to make sure there are no rogue grains of rice sticking to the bottom of your pot. My 2-quart saucepan is enameled steel.
- If your pan is smaller than 2 quarts, you risk splatters and spills that can burn you (and make a mess).
- If your pan is larger and wider (like a Dutch oven), the broth will evaporate faster due to increased surface area. You will likely need to add more broth in step 3 to get the correct balance of creaminess and rice tenderness.
- If your pan is larger and taller, the broth may evaporate more slowly. This is because the higher sides of a taller pan trap more moisture, slowing overall evaporation. You may not need to adjust liquid amounts, or you may need to use a bit less in step 3.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make Ahead - One of the restaurant tricks I learned in culinary school was how to pause the cooking process of risotto. The basic idea is that you are par-cooking the rice, cooling it quickly to stop any carryover cooking, then picking up where you left off. To do this at home, remove your risotto from the heat just before Step 3. Pour the risotto onto a large rimmed baking sheet or into a large baking pan. The more surface area the better. Pop in the fridge to cool quickly. When ready to finish, scrape everything back into the pot, add the broth from Step 3, and bring back up to a simmer. Continue as written, adding more broth as needed to achieve your desired textures, and serve immediately. (To be honest, this method isn't terribly useful for this recipe, since the whole cooking process is so brief.)
Storage - Risotto does not reheat well. The best way is re-warming gently on the stove over low heat, adding a splash of water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock to loosen. You can creep close to its original silkiness, but it will be a shadow of its former self. If you have leftover risotto, I recommend you make it into arancini! (Recipe to come!)
Expert Tips & Tricks
Using warm broth:
Technically, your broth does not have to be warm. The main thing that the temperature affects is cook time. If you add cold broth it drops the overall temperature of the pot, meaning it will take longer for it to come to a simmer. You need the pot to simmer in order for the rice starches to activate and begin thickening the sauce. Adding warm broth dramatically decreases the time needed to reach simmering temperature, which in turn dramatically decreases the overall cook time.
Never wash your rice:
The starches clinging to the surface of milled (white) rice combine with the broth and dairy to make a silky, creamy sauce. It's this thickening power that blankets every grain in decadent, luscious flavor. Save the surface starches--don't rinse your rice!!
Serve on a warm plate:
This is a bit "extra" for a weeknight, but if you're frustrated by perfect all'ondo texture in the pot turning too-thick by the time you serve and sit, try warming your plate or bowl. Even perfect risotto thickens rapidly as it cools, so spooning it onto a cold or room-temp surface is only going to speed up that process. A warm bowl will help keep it warm longer.
You can halve all the ingredients for this recipe without making any major adjustments to the method. If you use a 2-quart pot, you might need some extra broth. A less-full pot means faster evaporation, so your risotto is likely to become too thick before the rice is tender. Just add more broth and keep cooking until you're happy! (If you use a smaller pot, you won't have to do as much to adjust the liquid amounts.)
Yes! If you do, make sure you have a pot large enough to accommodate the larger volume. This recipe makes about 3 generous cups of risotto, but it needs headroom to splash a bit as you stir. I would use a 5 to 6 quart pot for a double batch.
While it depends on what you are serving with the risotto, I generally recommend about 1 to 1 ½ cups per person. This recipe makes about 3 cups. If serving with a small side salad, I would say this serves 2. If serving with a heartier protein or a large dinner salad, I would say this serves 3 to 4.
The secret is in the rice starch. As rice cooks it releases starches. Rice starches, like cornstarch or flour, can bind with liquids to thicken them into glossy sauces and gravies. The starch's thickening power activates at simmering temperature. Simmering the rice in flavorful broth allows the starches to bind with the broth to create a saucy, silky texture. Adding dairy like butter and cheese enhances this effect with creamy flavors and extra fat, but the true hero of risotto's creamy texture is the starch.
I would call risotto a "confident beginner" dish. The techniques involved are very entry-level knife skills, basic understanding of cooking temperatures, and basic seasoning skills. Because factors like stove and equipment can affect the progression of the recipe, it's helpful to have a some confidence in adjusting factors like burner temperature and liquid levels in order to make sure your rice is properly tender and the final sauciness is correct. This recipe is also fairly fast-paced. It's helpful to have the confidence to understand and adjust what's happening in the pan, without needing to step away to look up questions, is important.
In classic Italian restaurants, risotto is usually served with the primi piatti, smaller plates that come out before the secondi, which are generally the heartier proteins. However, it's not uncommon to order a primo of risotto and round it out with a few contorni, side plates. What does this mean for you? Pick your pleasure! Feel free to serve smaller portions with a beautiful fillet of salmon, or make the risotto your main meal.
Restaurants often par-cook risotto--in fact that's how I learned my "make ahead" technique outlined above. The trick is to cool the rice down fast by spreading it into a thin layer and popping it into the fridge quickly, so that it doesn't keep cooking even after it is removed from the heat.
Looking for other one-pot, comforting recipes? Try these:
I love serving a crunchy salad with a simple, classic risotto. The contrast in textures is wonderful!
Simple Classic Risotto
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, divided
- 1 cup carnaroli or arborio rice
- kosher salt
- ¾ ounce Parmesan, finely grated on a microplane (scant 1 cup)
- 2 to 4 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar, or other light vinegar (See Notes)
- Step 1In a small covered saucepan over medium, bring the broth to a simmer. Reduce to low and keep warm. Just before beginning the rice, measure out 2½ cups of warm broth to have at the ready.
- Step 2In a large saucepan or high-sided skillet over medium-high, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic and translucent at the edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2½ cups of the warm broth and a good pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently and briskly, until the rice grains are noticeably more tender but still have quite a firm core, 7 to 10 minutes. The risotto will still look quite loose and soupy. Adjust the heat as-needed to maintain a vigorous simmer.
- Step 3Add another ½ cup of the hot broth and continue cooking, stirring frequently and briskly, until the rice is just shy of perfect al dente, 3 to 5 minutes. It should still be quite soupy and loose. (The risotto will continue to cook and thicken off heat, so if it's perfectly cooked now it will over cook by the time you sit down to eat.)If the rice is still very crunchy but the risotto is starting to look thick and sticky, add ¼ cup more broth and continue simmering and stirring. Repeat, adding broth ¼ cup at a time, until the rice is just shy of perfectly cooked.
- Step 4Off heat, stir in the Parmesan, 2 teaspoons vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, 1 piece at a time. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and vinegar. Serve immediately.