How to Make Risotto, Illustrated

For some reason, risotto has a reputation of being difficult to make. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Making Risotto is straight-forward. In most cases you will sauté your herbs and flavorings in unsalted butter or olive oil, add the rice and sauté it too to lightly toast it, add a little wine, and, once the wine has evaporated, add simmering broth or stock, a ladle at a time. When the rice reaches the creamy al dente stage, add butter and cheese if you want, let it sit covered for a couple of minutes, and it’s ready.

There are some variations, however. For example, if what you are flavoring the risotto with is moist, and thus can’t be sautéed — for example, diced squash, which gives off moisture and falls apart when heated — you can sauté the rice and onion in one pot, prepare the intingolo (sauce or flavoring) in another, and then combine the two.

To illustrate the two techniques I prepared two risotti:

  • Risotto with sausages, done with the standard technique
  • Risotto with squash, which requires two pots
The Ingredients for Squash and Sausage Risotto

The Ingredients for Squash and Sausage Risotto

For Both:

  • Short grained rice, which gives off starch as it cooks, producing a creamy texture. I used Carnaroli; you could also use Arborio, or Vialone Nano, or Roma. How much? 1 1/2 cups, or 300 grams, per risotto (it’s a 1 kilo, or 2 pound package)
  • Wine: You will want a white, because red wine will color the risotto, and it should be dry — ideally a wine you’ll be happy to set on the table after cooking with it. I used a Riccardo Falchini’s Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
  • Granulated Bouillon: Soup stock will be even better, if you have some handy
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 Chopped Onions, one red and white
  • Minced Parsley
  • Freshly Grated Parmigiano
  • Unsalted butter (butter is more traditional, though now many use olive oil)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

For The Squash Risotto:

  • Half a Butternut Squash, peeled and diced (about 3/4 pound, or 350 grams diced)

For The Sausage Risotto:

  • 4 mild sausages (about 3/4 pound), casings removed and the meat crumbled
  • A small can chopped tomatoes (I ended up not using the tomato paste)
Cooking Risotto: Heating Liquids & Sauteing Onions

Cooking Risotto: Heating Liquids & Sauteing Onions

Begin by setting stock or bouillon to heat. Since one cannot sauté squash — it gives off liquid and falls apart — I put it in cold water to cover, seasoning it with a teaspoon of bouillon and a little pepper, and brought it to a simmer. With the liquids heating, I began sautéing the onions — red for the sausage risotto and white for the squash risotto.

Some people like to sauté the rice in butter, but most Italians now use olive oil because it’s healthier. I used about a quarter cup per pot, and sautéed the onions over a medium flame until they were translucent. Stir them frequently, and do not let them brown or they will become bitter.

Making Risotto: Sauteing the Sausage

Making Risotto: Sauteing the Sausage

Unlike squash, sausage sautés readily, and I therefore added it to the onion and continued cooking until it was browned. It looks like a lot of sausage, and is — I misread the recipe and put in more than I should have. Fortunately, risotto is forgiving, and the end result was quite tasty.

When the onion and other flavorings have sautéed, it’s time to sauté the rice as well, a process that will lightly toast it.

Making Risotto: Saute the Rice

Making Risotto: Saute the Rice

Some people remove the onions/flavorings with a slotted spoon at this point to keep them from overcooking, leaving the oily drippings in the pan for the rice, but I didn’t.

Sauté the rice mixture over a medium flame for 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly lest the rice stick and burn. The rice grains should become translucent.

Note that the diced squash (behind the sausage risotto) is beginning to fall apart.

Once you have toasted the rice, return the flavorings to the pot if you removed them.

Making Risotto: Add the Wine

Making Risotto: Add the Wine

The next step is to add the wine, and this brings up an important point: All the liquids you add to a risotto should be warm if not hot, because adding cold liquid to hot rice grains will make them crack and give off their starch.

The microwave is ideal for heating the wine. I added about a half cup of to each of the risotti, and then cooked, stirring, until it had evaporated. It is important that the wine evaporate completely before you add more liquid, because if it doesn’t the risotto will taste more of wine than you might want.

And now the liquid:

Adding Broth to the Sausage Risotto

Adding Broth to the Sausage Risotto

I added a couple of ladles of simmering broth to the sausage risotto, together with the can of chopped tomatoes.

Adding the Squash Mixture to the Risotto

Adding the Squash Mixture to the Risotto

And I stirred the butternut squash mixture, which was becoming a creamy puree, into the other risotto.

From here on in the cooking process is the same: Stir gently, lest the rice stick to the bottom of the pot and burn, and add more liquid as the rice absorbs what’s in the pot. Let the rice absorb most of the liquid (you’re not making soup), but don’t wait until it looks dry, because the grains will begin to flake if you do. While you stir, don’t forget to check seasoning and add salt to taste.

Continue adding liquid until the rice reaches the al dente stage of doneness — chewy but firm. If you prefer a drier risotto, make the last ladle of liquid a little smaller. If you instead prefer a more liquid risotto (what’s called all’onda, like a wave, in Italian) be a little more abundant with the final ladle.

Making Risotto: Adding Butter to the Pot

Making Risotto: Adding Butter to the Pot

Stir a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter into the risotto if you want a creamier texture. This does make the risotto a little bit heavier, but I like it.

Making Risotto: Add Cheese if Desired

Making Risotto: Add Cheese if Desired

And then stir in grated cheese, followed by minced parsley. Turn off the burner, cover the risotto, and let it sit for two minutes, during which time everything will mantecare, or come together and meld.

Note: If you’re making a risotto that doesn’t have grated cheese, simply cover it.

Risotto with Sausages, and Risotto with Squash

Risotto with Sausages, and Risotto with Squash

And here we have them: Sausage Risotto, and Squash Risotto, served with the rest of the bottle of Riccardo Falchini’s Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Buon Appetito!


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Categories: Illustrated Recipes And More

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.


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