If you’ve ever had risotto, you know it’s creamy, decadent, and delicious with a bit of chewiness. It is comfort food wrapped up in an elegant dish. Risotto also has a reputation for being a fancy dish and hard to make well. For me, it brings up cooking competitions on television – no one ever makes it right! Why is making risotto so hard?

The truth is that making risotto is not that hard. Risotto, a classic Italian dish usually made with Arborio rice, is usually time-consuming but not difficult. The rice is cooked in wine and broth until it is creamy and all the liquid is absorbed. It can be made with mushrooms or other vegetables to give it different flavors. And because we are endlessly creative, we can change the rules by making risottos with different types of rice or no rice at all. We can figure out how to make it so we don’t have to stand at the stove stirring and stirring. Here are some tips for making perfect risotto, traditional and not, plus recipes you’ll be excited to try.

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1. Types of Rice

Cauliflower Risotto With Cashew Cheese [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

The key to a good traditional risotto is using short-grain rice. Arborio is the most common type used for this dish, but there are other types. You want to use short-grain rice because it has a higher starch content and absorbs less liquid, resulting in a stickier, more compact risotto.

Arborio rice is pearly and round and easily available. It has the highest starch content of any rice you can buy in the United States so it makes the creamiest risotto. Arborio rice is used in this decadent Artichoke and Spinach Risotto With Lemon Cashew Cream. Carnaroli rice is preferred by many chefs because it has the best flavor. Vialone Nano is another small grain type of rice but unless you’re making the risotto in Italy, it’s not helpful to say any more about it.

What about brown rice, you ask? Well, whole-grain rice has an outer layer of bran that prevents the starch from being released so many people say you can’t make a good risotto from it. I disagree because I have made a delicious mushroom risotto with brown rice. The down side is that instead of cooking for twenty minutes, a brown rice risotto takes almost an hour to make. This Cauliflower Risotto With Cashew Cheese uses a semi-brown Arborio rice.

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2. Toast the Rice

Farmer’s Market Lemon Risotto With Summer Squash [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Do NOT wash or rinse the rice first. You want to keep all the starch. Toasting the rice, however, helps heat up the grain’s exterior and helps the rice to absorb the liquid it will cook in. Only toast it a bit; don’t let it turn brown unless you want to make Rice-a-Roni. Try toasting the rice to make this Farmer’s Market Lemon Risotto With Summer Squash.

3. The Liquid

Lemon Beer Risotto With Olives and Chestnuts [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

The liquid you cook the rice in is very important because that’s where most of the flavor comes from. You can use wine in the beginning but be sure to use a good wine that is at room temperature and that the rice has absorbed all the wine before moving on to the broth. Whether you use vegetable or mushroom stock or broth, make sure that it is hot. Keep a covered pan of it on low heat while you cook the risotto. If the liquid is cold, it will cool down the rice and the pan and mess up the dish.

If a recipe says you’ll need six cups of stock, prepare eight or more. You might need less but you don’t want to be caught short. If you do run out of broth, you can use simmering water. Instead of wine, this Lemon Beer Risotto With Olives and Chestnuts uses beer!

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4. Add Broth Little By Little

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When you cook risotto, you need to add liquid in increments. Start with 1/2-3/4 cup of broth and then reduce that amount to 1/2-1/4 cup for the rest of the cooking process. If you add too much broth, you’ll just boil the rice instead of making it creamy. After you add the broth, wait until the rice absorbs it all before adding any more. Use this tip to make this Saffron Risotto With Roasted Vegetables.

5. Stirring and Cooking

Fiddlehead Fern Risotto [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

It isn’t true that risotto needs to be stirred constantly. In fact, stirring it too much will make the rice gluey and sticky. On the other hand, if you don’t stir it at all, it will get hard and burn. You need to stir the rice to help release the starches that will make the dish creamy. So find a happy middle ground and stir it every so often.

You want to cook the rice on medium heat until it is al dente or has a bit of chew. The risotto should not be so thick that it sticks to a wooden spoon but not so thin that it’s runny. Cook the rice perfectly when you make this pretty green Fiddlehead Fern Risotto.

6. Adding Veggies and Stuff

Creamy Pumpkin Risotto with Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pepitas [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Of course, we are adding veggies. Ideally, vegetables should be cooked separately before being added to the risotto. Other than onion, celery, carrots or any mirepoix you add in the beginning, vegetables should be added at the end, right before the rice is done. If you add the veggies at the beginning, they will be mushy by the time the risotto is done. This is also true for fresh herbs and lemon zest as well as vegan butter and vegan cheeses. Turn off the heat before adding these things. In this Creamy Pumpkin Risotto With Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pepitas, the pumpkin is added at the end of the cooking process.

7. Variations

Barley-Risotto

Using brown rice is not the only way to break with tradition. It’s also possible to bake risotto or make it in a slow cooker. See the how-tos and recipes in How to Make Risotto 5 Different Ways.

Another way is to not use rice at all. What? That’s right, we  can make risotto without rice – just don’t tell the chefs in Italy that! We can use other grains like barley, oats or millet or skip the grain entirely and keep it all veggies. When cauliflower or carrots are processed, they get the look and texture of rice. Recipes that break the rules include this Mushroom Steel Cut Oatmeal Risotto, Lentil Kale Risotto, Lemon Asparagus Steel-Cut Ris-Oat-To, Creamy Mushroom and Spinach ‘Orzotto” and Barley Risotto with Fava Beans, Corn and Mushrooms.

8. More Recipes

Mushroom and Leek Risotto with 'Parmesan' Tempeh [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

If you want even more delicious risotto recipes, we have them. Try this Sweet Potato Risotto with Sausage, Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries, The Grand Budapest Beet Risotto, and this Eggplant Ragout with Risotto. Adding butternut squash is a great way to add color and creaminess. Try this Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash and this Butternut Squash Risotto. Mushrooms are so good in risotto. Make this Mushroom and Leek Risotto with ‘Parmesan’ as well as this Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto.

When it’s cooked correctly, risotto is creamy, chewy, and decadent. It’s an elegant-looking dish that can be made any night of the week.

Lead image source: Artichoke and Spinach Risotto With Lemon Cashew Cream