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Learn how to make risotto step-by-step in this video recipe on how to make butternut squash risotto!
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How to Choose Rice for Risotto
It’s very important to select the right kind of rice for making risotto. Why? In order to achieve that risotto texture (‘al dente’), the rice in risotto is toasted and then slowly cooked in a pan.
Some varieties of rice simply cannot maintain their structure during a long cook time. The rice will begin to fall apart. For this reason, arborio or —better yet— carnaroli rice are used in Italy to make risotto. Carnaroli is the most professional choice.
This said, some brands of arborio and carnaroli rice are better than others. Look at the grains of rice to be sure they are whole and aren’t flaking apart. In our experience, the poorer quality brands have a flaky, broken visual appearance in the package.
How to Make Risotto in 4 Easy Steps!
Now that we have selected the right rice, we can get started! The steps to making risotto—any risotto— can be broken down into four simple steps:
- Prepare Flavors and Aromatics
- Toast the Rice
- Slowly Cook the Rice
- The Mantecatura
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps:
1) Prepare Flavors and Aromatics
There are many traditional flavors for risotto. For instance, you can find an excellent Butternut Squash Risotto recipe and a tasty Mushroom Risotto recipe on this website. Other popular flavors include saffron, seafood or vegetables like spinach or zucchini.
Almost all risotto recipes require some vegetable chopping or cheese grating, so the first step is to simply get these ingredients ready.
Since risotto is slowly cooked by adding a few ladles of broth at a time, you’ll also want to make or heat whatever broth you need for the recipe. Common choices are vegetable, chicken or beef stock. Honestly, Italians typically make their broth from scratch—it seems to be a core competency in Italian kitchens! It’s actually very difficult to find pre-prepared broth on Italian grocery shelves as you find in other countries these days like the United States.
2) Toast the Rice
The arborio or carnaroli rice for risotto is always toasted before it is cooked. You can toast the risotto in a dry pan or in a bit of olive oil with aromatics like onion or shallot. Toast just until the rice becomes slightly translucent—about 3 minutes!
Toasting gives the rice a delicious nutty taste, but also strengthens the grains of rice to withstand the cooking process. Toasting the rice changes the surface of the rice grains, making them crispy on the outside. This helps the rice to better hold its structure while cooking and also helps the rice to release its starch more slowly.
Our goal is a deliciously creamy risotto with ‘al dente’ rice.
During the Toast the Rice step, you can also add a bit of wine to the rice at the end of the toasting. This is called the sfumatura— which refers to adding alcohol to de-glaze the fats and add a bit of extra flavor to a dish. It is optional, and it makes more sense to do it when you’ve toasted the rice in olive oil and some aromatics.
3) Slowly Cook the Rice
Instead of adding all of the water at once as we do for cooking other types of rice, the water (or broth) for risotto is added a few ladles at a time. We wait for that hot broth or water to mostly absorb, then add a few ladles more. We continue like this until the rice is cooked to al dente.
4) The Mantecatura
A mantecatura is the process of adding room temperature fat and flavor at the end of cooking, when the dish is still hot—but not over direct heat! The mantecatura makes whatever you are cooking creamy and delicious!
A variety of fats can be added, depending on the risotto recipe. You can simply add a bit of butter. Or, you can add a fat with a bit more excitement— a bit of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or even a creamy cheese like gorgonzola!
More Tips for Making Risotto
Choose a well-insulated pot or pan.
Use a well-insulated skillet to make the risotto—for instance a 3-ply stainless steel skillet or dutch oven (an affiliate link to the type of dutch oven we use in our kitchen).
Season at the end.
Don’t add salt or pepper until you’ve finished cooking your risotto. If you ‘salt to taste’ at the beginning and then the broth reduces, the final dish will be too salty.
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Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe
- Well-insulated pan or dutch oven
- 1 ¼ lb butternut squash one medium, diced
- ½ medium onion finely chopped
- 6 cups vegetable broth or, chicken broth
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 ½ cups arborio rice or carnaroli rice
- 3 tbsp olive oil or as needed; extra virgin
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- ⅓ lb gorgonzola cheese dolce or sweet
- Peel and dice the butternut squash. Finely chop the onion.1 ¼ lb butternut squash, ½ medium onion
Cook Squash and Onions
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan. Add the onions and sauté them over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until translucent.3 tbsp olive oil
- While the onions are cooking, bring all of the broth to a simmer in a large pot.6 cups vegetable broth
- When the onions are translucent, add all of the butternut squash and 2-3 ladles of hot broth.
- Cover and cook the squash for about 20 minutes. Add 1-2 more ladles of broth and keep cooking if the squash is not tender enough to mash after the 20 minutes. In the meantime…
Toast the Rice
- Toast the arborio rice in another dry skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Stir rice frequently until it begins to turn golden and smells like toasted rice.1 ½ cups arborio rice
- When the rice is toasted, add the dry white wine. This is called the ‘sfumato.’ Stir until the rice has absorbed the wine.½ cup dry white wine
Make the Risotto
- When the squash is tender, add another ladle of broth and mash it coarsely with a fork.
- Add the butternut squash to the toasted rice. Stir and add 2 more ladles of broth.
- Cook the rice for 20 minutes over medium heat. Check the risotto frequently during the 20 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning. When the broth is almost absorbed, add another ladle of broth and continue to do so for the entire 20 minutes.
- The finished risotto should be done but a tiny bit ‘al dente’ (chewy). Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Turn off the heat. Add the butter and the gorgonzola to the risotto. Stir until the cheese and butter are melted. This is called the ‘mantecatura.’2 tbsp unsalted butter, ⅓ lb gorgonzola cheese