The secret to perfect risotto every time (and it’s not stirring!)

Risotto done right is absolutely sublime: rich and luxurious with just a touch of toothsomeness. Risotto, an ultra-creamy rice dish, is made by slowly combining hot broth with arborio (or other “risotto-style”) rice. Despite its reputation for being fussy or time-intensive, risotto is actually quite simple to make. While you do need to attend to the pot while you’re making risotto, that step only takes about half an hour. And the results are more than worth it! All you need are a few choice ingredients and a bit of time at the stove and you’ll have a pot of creamy risotto that an Italian nonna (grandmother) would be proud of.

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So what’s the secret to good risotto? It’s using short-grain risotto rice. Arborio is the most commonly available rice variety in American supermarkets, but if you can find carnaroli, vialone or another Italian “risotto” rice, you can use those as well. Look for these varieties in the rice section of well-stocked supermarkets or in the bulk section of natural-foods stores. These rices are high in amylopectin, a starch that readily breaks down when cooked, giving risotto its characteristically creamy texture (without any added cream). While EatingWell typically advocates for whole grains over refined grains, the outer layer of bran on brown rice (and other whole grains) prevents the amylopectin from being released during cooking, so whole-grain rice can’t give you the same result.

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You’ll also want to make sure to use a broth or stock that you like, since the dish will be infused with its essence (use homemade if you can), and a good-quality Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano, to get the best flavor bang for your buck. Our step-by-step photos will have you making perfect risotto every time!

You’ll find the recipe for Basic Risotto below. Once you’ve mastered the technique, variations on the recipe are almost endless. You can add different vegetables, use any type of broth and add whatever herbs you have on hand. Serve risotto alongside roasted or braised meat or enjoy it as a main dish with a big tossed salad. Whichever way you choose, you’ll be enjoying a simply luxurious meal.

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Basic Risotto
Makes 8 side-dish servings, about 2/3 cup each
Active time: 50 minutes | Total: 50 minutes

Slowly adding hot broth to arborio rice helps release the starch from the rice, giving risotto its characteristic silky, creamy texture. We add a splash of wine along with each addition of broth to give the dish a more pronounced wine flavor. If you’d prefer the wine to be more subtle, add the entire cup at the end of Step 2 and cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed, then begin adding the broth. If you prefer to omit wine, use more broth in its place.

5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, beef broth, seafood stock, bottled clam juice, “no-chicken” broth or vegetable broth (see Notes)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped shallots or onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio, carnaroli or other Italian “risotto” rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the broth remains steaming, but is not simmering.
2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add shallots (or onion) and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add rice and salt and stir to coat.
3. Stir 1/2 cup of the hot broth and a generous splash of wine into the rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to cook on medium-low, adding broth in 1/2-cup increments followed by a splash of wine, and stirring frequently after each addition, until most of the liquid is absorbed. The risotto is done when you’ve used all the broth and wine and the rice is creamy and just tender, 25 to 35 minutes total.
4. Remove from the heat; stir in 3/4 cup cheese and pepper. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

Per serving: 242 calories; 6 g fat (2 g sat, 4 g mono); 7 mg cholesterol; 32 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 9 g protein; 1 g fiber; 593 mg sodium; 228 mg potassium.

Notes: Bottled clam juice can be very high in sodium. We like Bar Harbor brand, which has 120 mg sodium per 2-ounce serving. Look for it in the canned-fish section or the seafood department of your supermarket.

Chicken-flavored broth, a vegetarian broth despite its name, is preferable to vegetable broth in some recipes for its hearty, rich flavor. Sometimes called “No-Chicken Broth,” it can be found with the soups in the natural-foods section of most supermarkets.

What's your favorite ingredient to add to risotto?

Carolyn Malcoun combines her love of food and writing in her position as contributing food editor at EatingWell. Carolyn has a culinary arts degree from New England Culinary Institute and a degree in journalism from University of Wisconsin—Madison. Carolyn lives in Portland, Maine, and enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking and running in her free time.


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