As an alternative to pasta, Italian-style risotto is the next best thing. It is creamy with a fabulous mouth-filling consistency and is perfect when combined with spring vegetables. Although risotto can be a little time consuming, it is relatively cheap and definitely worth the work in the kitchen. Here's your how-to for risotto and a few risotto recipes to get you started.
Tips for making risotto
Risotto tip #1: Use short-grain rice
You can't use just any rice to make risotto if you want that creamy deliciousness characteristic of the classic Italian dish. Italian style arborio rice is the most common and best choice because it is fat and starchy and can release just enough starch while retaining just enough flavor. Arborio can be found in most markets these days, but other good options are roma, baldo, ribe and originario (these types of rice are harder to find).
Risotto tip #2: Alternative grains
You can surely experiment with something other than rice. Any small starchy grain such as pearl barley, spelt, faro or even orzo pasta can be used. Simply choose a grain that can plump up and retain lots of flavor, but is still starchy enough to create the creamy texture of risotto.
Risotto tip #3: Choose the right pan
Almost as important as the rice in risotto is the pan you cook it in. A heavy-bottomed cast-iron skillet is the best, but any heavy bottomed skillet can be used. You need something that will evenly retain heat and cook the rice.
Risotto tip #4: Have enough liquid
To make risotto, you use about three times as much cooking liquid as rice. Because risotto is cooked on the stovetop, uncovered and constantly being stirred, more liquid evaporates. Also, because the rice is fatter, more liquid is absorbed.
Risotto tip #5: Flavor with stock
Homemade or store-bought vegetable, chicken or beef stock works the best because each will add its distinctive flavor to the dish. When you decide which extra ingredients to add, you can determine which type of stock to use. Be sure to use low-sodium or salt-free stock so you can control the salt. You can also substitute some of the stock with white wine.
Risotto tip #6: Add even more flavor
Lightly sautéed, finely chopped shallots and/or onions should always be added to the risotto because they will impart a delicious aromatic flavor.
Risotto tip #7: Add texture
Other finely chopped ingredients such as vegetables, shrimp, chicken, pork or other types of protein also work well in risotto. Since these are usually one of the last ingredients added, make sure they are almost fully cooked.
Risotto tip #8: Finish it with herbs
Fresh herbs add a lot of flavor. Fresh tarragon, basil, parsley or thyme can be added towards the end of cooking to bring out their flavor.
Risotto tip #9: Keep on stirring
Risotto must constantly be watched. The stock should be added a little at a time and the rice should always be stirred so the rice doesn't burn and stick. The stock should always be just at a simmer and you need to make sure the stock is fully absorbed before adding the next batch. You know your risotto is finished when the rice still has a little texture but is not crunchy. Also, the risotto should be creamy – not too thick and not too thin.
Risotto tip #10: Be creative
Add whichever flavorful ingredients you like and don't be afraid to experiment. Once you understand the technique, making risotto won't be intimidating at all.