Risotto is one of my favorite meals. It's hearty, warming, and packed with flavor. And it's super versatile, so you can make it any way your family likes. Me? I adore a wild mushroom risotto punched up with some crispy pancetta, whatever mushrooms are in season, and broth made from soaking dried porcinis in chicken stock. This is just one example of the ingredients you can add to risotto to make it even tastier.
So, if you're looking to add tons of flavor to this versatile dish, we've got plenty of ingredients you can mix into a basic risotto to turn it into something truly special.
Basic Risotto Ingredients
Risotto isn't difficult to make, but it does take some time, attention, and mostly, stirring. By stirring risotto constantly and adding the liquid a little at a time, it releases the starch in the rice to make it super creamy and satisfying. For a basic risotto, you'll need the following ingredients.
All risotto starts out with some type of fat. Typically, it's olive oil or butter. I like to render pancetta and use the fat from that. Other fats include duck fat, bacon fat, avocado oil, or clarified butter. To start cooking your risotto, heat your chosen fat in a large pan.
Minced onions supply the aromatic flavor base for risotto. Depending on the ingredients you plan to add, yellow onion, sweet onion, or shallots are good choices. Red onions tend to be overpowering for delicate flavors like seafood, but they may hold up well to the intensity and earthiness of mushrooms. You can also try a combination of different types of onions. Try a mince of yellow onions, scallions, and sweet onions, for example. Sauté the onions in the fat until they become translucent.
Rice is the most essential ingredient in risotto, and you need a high-starch, low-amylose rice. Choose a medium-grained, round, starchy rice, such as aborio, nano, carnaroli, or vialone. For a fun twist, you can make risotto using the orzo pasta and follow the same cooking techniques (technically, it's called orzotto, but it's just as tasty). Add the rice to the cooked onions and sauté it for a few minutes, stirring, to toast the rice and coat it with fat.
Amylose is a sticky polymer; sticky rices, such as sushi rice, will not work for risotto.
Stock and Other Liquids
Typically, you'll add two different types of liquid to your risotto. The first addition deglazes the pan and adds some acidity. I typically use a half to a quarter cup of dry white wine for this, but you can also use 2 tablespoons of lemon juice mixed with a quarter cup of water, 2 tablespoons of white or red wine vinegar mixed with a quarter cup of water, red wine, vermouth, or sherry.
The second liquid you add is hot stock or broth. The type you use is entirely up to you, but think about how it blends with the other flavors of your risotto. For example, lobster or seafood stock will go well with any seafood risotto, vegetable stock will be perfect for a lemon risotto with peas, and chicken stock is hearty enough to stand up well in a mushroom risotto.
Once the rice has reached an al dente stage, it is time to add cheese. I love a hard Italian cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago, or you can try Romano, Mizithra, or a blend of hard Italian cheeses. Soft cheeses like Mascarpone add tons of creamy goodness. When you serve it, add some shaved hard Italian cheese or a crumble of feta over the top.
At the very least, you'll need a little salt and some pepper. Taste the risotto at the end of cooking and determine whether it needs seasoning. Add salt a little at a time and keep adjusting for flavor until you achieve the right balance. You can also stir in chopped, fresh herbs such as chives, thyme, rosemary, mint, or basil. Stir in fresh herbs just before serving.
Extra Ingredients to Add to Risotto
Once you have your basic risotto techniques, you can get creative. It's easy to customize risotto to make a main dish or a side dish. It can be hearty or light, earthy or piquant, depending on the extra ingredients you choose to add.
- Mushrooms make an earthy, hearty risotto. Use reconstituted porcini mushrooms and whatever fresh mushrooms are currently in season. Use the strained porcini soaking liquid in your broth to impart even more mushroom flavor.
- Fresh herbs can entirely change the flavor and character of your risotto. Try fresh mint with tender green peas, or add some fresh basil with chopped tomatoes. Thyme pairs well with earthy flavors, while tarragon works well with white wine and seafood. Add fresh herbs right at the finish of the dish and stir them in well.
- Microgreens are a great way to add color to risotto. Use them as a garnish.
- Citrus can add a hit of brightness to a light risotto with fresh summer vegetables or seafood. Try adding in the finely grated zest of a lemon or orange and some lemon juice as you add the hot stock.
- Vegetables can add color and flavor to risotto. Asparagus, zucchini, and butternut squash are favorites — cook chopped veggies with the onions. Pair asparagus or summer squash with lemon and light herbs like basil. Combine butternut squash with deeper flavors like sage, thyme, or rosemary.
- Truffles take risotto to the next level. Shave fresh truffles over the top of the finished risotto or drizzle the risotto with truffle oil.
- Chicken, fish, shellfish, sausage, and bacon or pancetta are all great protein additions. Cook them separately and then stir them into the finished risotto.
Some Delicious Risotto Flavors
Ready to put it all together? Try some of these tasty risottos.
- Shrimp, orange zest, tarragon, and spring peas
- Butternut squash, sage, pancetta, and browned butter
- Mushroom, thyme, and truffle
- Lobster, asparagus, and lemon zest
- Italian sausage, mushroom, basil, and sun-dried tomato
- Broccolini, red bell pepper, pine nuts, lemon zest, and goat cheese
- Bacon, sun-dried tomato, and chive
- Clam, vermouth, and fennel
- Chicken and leek
Make the Risotto of Your Dreams
Rice makes a great neutral backdrop for all kinds of flavors. And a creamy, hot risotto brimming with all the flavors you love makes a meal you'll want to eat again and again.