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Risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish. It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy. Its origins are in North Italy, specifically Eastern Piedmont, Western Lombardy, and the Veneto, where rice paddies are abundant. 

Left: Risotto with peas.

To be correctly described as a risotto dish, it needs to be made following the established process described below; otherwise the dish is a rice dish. The main feature of a risotto dish is the maintenance of starch at the end of cooking that binds the grains together as a cream.

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A high-starch (amylopectin), low-amylose round medium grain rice is used to make risotto. Such rices have the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch and so they are stickier than the long grain varieties. The principal varieties used in Italy are Carnaroli and Vialone Nano and to a lesser degree Arborio.

Left: Risotto with mushrooms.

There are many different risotto recipes with different ingredients, but they are all based on rice of an appropriate variety cooked in a standard procedure.

The rice is first cooked briefly in butter or olive oil to coat each grain in a film of fat, this is called tostatura; white wine is added and has to be absorbed by the grains. When it has evaporated, the heat is raised to medium high and very hot stock is gradually added in small amounts while stirring gently, almost constantly: stirring loosens the starch molecules from the outside of the rice grains into the surrounding liquid, creating a smooth creamy-textured liquid. Tasting helps to indicate when the risotto is ready, a total time of about 17 minutes from when the wine evaporated. At that point it is taken off the heat for the mantecatura when diced cold butter and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese are vigorously stirred in to make the texture as creamy and smooth as possible. It may be removed from the heat a few minutes earlier, and left to cook with its residual heat but this requires fine judgment as to how much liquid will be absorbed by the rice while it waits. The cheese is usually omitted if the risotto contains fish or other seafood.

Properly cooked risotto is rich and creamy but still with some resistance or bite: al dente, and with separate grains. The traditional texture is fairly fluid, or all'onda ("wavy"). It should be served on flat dishes and it should easily spread out but not have excess watery liquid around the perimeter. It must be eaten at once as it continues to cook in its own heat and can become too dry with the grains too soft.

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Risotto can be made using many kinds of vegetable, meat, fish, seafood and legumes, and different types of wine and cheese may be used. There is even, exceptionally, an Italian strawberry risotto. Risotto is normally a Primo, served on its own before the main course.

Left: Prawn risotto.


Prawn Risotto Recipe

Sushi rice or rice for rice pudding 250 g
Fish stock or water 700 g
King prawns (fresh or frozen) 250 g
Butter or olive oil 50 g
Dill (fresh) to taste
White wine 50 g
Garlic 1 clove
Onion (medium) 1
Salt to taste

Put a medium size, heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid on a low heat. Tip in the olive oil and 25g/1oz of the butter, and cook the onion for 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the fish stock and the white wine to the pan and bring to a boil. Season with salt to taste. Then stir in the rice:

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Cook the rice on low heat for 25-30 minutes. Then add the prawns (if you are using frozen prawn, prepare them by pouring boiled water on them, leaving for 1-2 minutes, and draining), cover the pan with the lid and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes: 


When the risotto is ready, put it in a bowl, garnish with fresh dill or grated cheese and serve:

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Recipe source:

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