Basic Risotto

No, you don't need cream to make a risotto. What you need is short grain rice, which has a much higher starch content than long grain rice, so that as it absorbs the liquid, it releases all of that lovely starch and creates its own creamy sauce. Add a bit of butter and cheese, and that sauce is elevated.

Easy, right? Yes, and no.

Yes, it's easy enough to make risotto, but it does require constant attention, and it takes a bit of time. Depending on the rice, it can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, but it's worth it once that first creamy and salty mouthful hits your taste buds.

The Beauty Shot

I have a basic recipe for risotto, which I learned from watching Lorenza de Medici's cooking show on South Carolina Public Television. I believe that was back in the late 80s or early 90s. She used no real recipe, cooking the way that I learned to cook from the women in my family. Lorenza' television guidance for an authentic risotto went something like this, one handful or Arborio rice for each person, and then you add a bit of wine, and you add some chicken stock and stir, repeat this until the rice is properly cooked. Stir in the butter and cheese... You get the picture. Well, I'm about to do the same to you, but I'll give you approximate quantities.

Action Shot--stirring, constantly stirring

There are recipes out there, and that's great, but even Martha Stewart's recipe declares that you may not use all of the chicken broth. Why? Rice is rice, isn't it? Well, yes, and no. Depending on the variety of rice, the temperature you have your burner on, how much liquid you add at one time, etc. the finished product may require a bit more liquid or a bit less. Not a big deal. Often I find that I'll need to add a bit of tap water to finish up the cooking process--no big deal.

Basic Italian Risotto

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt*
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup of white wine
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable broth, heated
1/2 stick of butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
zest of one lemon for finishing
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley to dress

  • Heat the oil and stir in all of the onion. Sprinkle with the salt.
  • Once the onion has softened, stir in the rice and cook to toast lightly.
  • Stir in the wine.
  • Once the wine has been absorbed, pour in about half a cup of the stock and stir. You can walk away to do something else, but be sure you are near. You need to keep an eye on your rice.
  • As the rice absorbs the liquid, add another half cup and continue to stir. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked al dente, tender, but a teeny bit firm.
  • If you need more liquid than you have, add hot tap water, one-quarter cup at a time, until the risotto is ready. Turn off the heat.
  • Stir in the butter and cheese. Once that's incorporated, stir in the lemon zest.
  • Pour out onto a deep platter and dress with the chopped parsley and a light squeeze of lemon to brighten the flavor.

*I always use Grey or Celtic Sea Salt. Please use only half of the salt if you're using anything else, then taste and adjust.