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Risotto Recipes, How to Make Risotto and the History behind this Rice Dish

Risotto recipes are not just found in Northern Italy where they first originated, but also in the south, where they are just as popular.

 However, where arborio rice is grown, rice dishes have become an important part in the cuisine of northern Italy, and saffron one of the essential ingredients for risotto alla Milanese. Arborio rice is an Italian short-grain rice. It is named after the town of Arborio in the Po Valley, Lombardy, where it is grown.

In fact, Italy produces more rice and a greater variety of rice than anywhere else in Europe.

Milanese chefs prefer to use Carnaroli rice for their risotto recipes, whereas Vialone nano is the variety normally used in risotto recipes in the Veneto area.

The famous Milanese risotto gets its golden color from the precious spice, saffron, which is still an expensive luxury today, coming from the stamens of the saffron crocus flowers which are harvested every mid-autumn from the Kishmiri mountains, although saffron is also grown in around the Mediterranean and Iran.

The History of Risotto

The arrival of rice in Italy was introduced by the Arabs during their invasion of Sicily, along with oranges, lemons, sugar cane and pistachio nuts. However, some historians claim that saffron first made its appearance in the 13th century, though it is not known how, or by what route.

There is a lovely little story, urban legend perhaps, of a young apprentice called Valerius, who is supposed to have invented the yellow risotto recipe that Milan is so famous for.

The story goes that while he was working on the stain-glass window for the Cathedral Duomo in Milan in 1574 the towns' people made fun of him, accrediting saffron to his work, instead of himself. He was incensed, and decided to take revenge. It came when his master got married. Valerius decided to overdose the rice with saffron which was going to be served as the main dish at the wedding feast. However, his retribution plans backfired as the guests were enthralled, and so the yellow risotto recipe of Milan became famous.

What is known, is that Pope Celestine IV, a native of Milan and whose papacy only lasted from 28th October - 10 November 1241 often used saffron which was sent to him from Abruzzi, and used by him not only for cooking, but to mix with rose petals, lavender and lilies which were used to scent his daily bath.

Well, now that you know the history of risotto, you may appreciate eating it more once you make our delicious risotto recipes.

How to Make Risotto?

Risotto was first invented in Milan in the 16th century. Since then, risotto has been made in Italian kithens from north to south, and throughout the world.   A good risotto can only be made from a superfine rice.

All risottos are made in the same way, although they can be flavored with an endless variety of ingredients. The rice is first coated in butter, and then liquid is added to the rice in for form of simmering stock , one ladleful at time waiting for the liquid to be absorbed in between adding the stock.  The rice is stirred over a low heat.

The risotto is cooked like this, adding more stock, and stirring it in waiting for it to be absorbed for 20 minutes until the risotto is tender and creamy.

The final stage in making risotto is when it is cooked, taken off the heat,  and a knob of butter or a couple of spoons of olive oil is added along with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. This is stirred into the risotto that adds to the creaminess of the rice. This last stage in making risotto is called mantecatura.

Left-over risotto of any kind can be used the following day by rolling them into balls, coating them breadcrumbs and then deep frying them.

Risotto balls

Risotto Balls


(Risotto con Ragu)

5-6 cups chicken stock (approximately)
1 tablespoon oil
2 oz butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cups short grained rice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
meat sauce

Place the stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmering point. Heat the oil and half the butter in a heavy based pan, add the onions and fry gently until soft and golden. Add the rice and cook until translucent. Add stock a ladleful at a time.

Wait until rice has absorbed all the liquid before adding any more. Cook until rice is tender and creamy. About 25 minutes.

Stir in the remaining butter and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve meat sauce on the side.


(Risotto alla Paesana)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
4 oz zucchini, thinly sliced
4 oz shelled peas or broad beans
2 cups short grained rice
5-6 cups chicken stock (approximately)
1 oz butter
4 oz cooked ham, cut into strips
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
seasoning to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan, add the onion and celery and fry over a low heat for 3 minutes. Stir in the zucchini, peas or beans and cook gently for 5 minutes.

Add the rice and cook for a further minute or two until the rice is translucent. Add the stock one ladleful at a time, waiting for the liquid to be totally absorbed before adding the next spoonful.

Continue cooking the rice until it is cooked - about 25 minutes. Consistency should be creamy. Stir in the butter and the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.


(Risotto alla Milanese)

Risotto Milanese Melt a small piece of butter in a saucepan.

Brown in the butter a medium sized onion, cut in thin slices. When the onion is browned, take it away from the saucepan and add little by little the rice, stirring it with a wooden spoon.

Every time that the rice becomes dry, add some hot broth (or hot water) until the rice is completely cooked. Add salt and pepper and a little saffron, if you like it.

When the rice is almost cooked, add to it some brown stock. Dress with Parmesan cheese and some butter. Mix well and serve hot.

This dish must not be allowed to be overcooked or cooled before eating.


(Risotto alla Milanese II)

The broth for this risotto may be made by cooking together the giblets, neck and tips of wings of a chicken which should be roasted first, or it can be made from the left-overs of a roast chicken.

Boil the rice until it is about half done in salted water. Then let the water cook away and begin adding the broth, in such quantities that the rice will be nearly dry when it is tender.

Fry one chopped onion in the oil or fat. Some mushrooms cut up small are a very good addition to this "Soffritto". Mince the chicken giblets and add to the onion. Stir the mixture into the rice.

Add grated cheese and a beaten egg just as the rice is taken off the heat.


(Risotto con Piselli)

Wash and dry 1½ lb. rice; chop fine one medium sized onion and put it on the stove with a small quantity of butter.

When the onion is well browned, add the rice little by little, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add some boiling water one cup at a time. Drain the peas previously prepared (fresh or canned peas may be used) and add them toward the end of the cooking. 

When the whole is almost cooked, add some salt and take it away from the water almost dry. Add some butter, stir and serve hot.


(Risi e Bisi)

risi e bisi dished up on a yellow plate
1/2 cup of rice
Grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of butter
1 small onion

Chop the onion up fine and put it into the saucepan with one-half the butter (one tablespoon).

Cook until the onion is brown, then pour on the rice (raw) and fry until the rice is dry.

Then add hot water, a ladleful at a time, taking care not to let the rice boil too hard, as it will then become hard in the middle and floury around the edges.

When the rice is cooked, remove from heat and add the rest of the butter. Before taking off the heat add a little grated Parmesan cheese and the peas, which have been prepared as follows:

Take a small piece of ham fat, one-half small onion, and some parsley. Chop together fine, add three tablespoons of olive-oil, salt and pepper, and put into a saucepan over a medium heat.

When the onion is colored add one can of green peas (or fresh peas, according to season). When the peas have absorbed all the olive-oil add a sufficient quantity of broth to cover them (or water) and cook until peas are soft. Then mix the peas with the rice, add one tablespoon of Parmesan cheese, and serve.


(Risotto con Gamberi)

lobster risotto For this risotto either lobster or crab meat can be used: the former is, however, considered more tasty.

The lobster or crab meat ought to be about half the weight of the rice used. A little more than a pound of rice and half this weight of crab meat ought to be enough for six persons.

Chop fine a sprig of parsley, a stalk of celery, one carrot, half an onion a clove of garlic and brown the whole lot in good olive oil.

When browned, add the crab meat and season with salt and pepper.

During the cooking process stir and turn over the crabs, and when they have become red, pour over as much hot water as is necessary to cook the rice.

After the water boils for a while, remove the lobster (or crab, or crayfish) leaving the saucepan on a medium heat. 

Put half of the crabs aside, and grind the rest of the meat. Rub the ground meat through the sieve and put it back on the cooker.

In another saucepan melt some butter and put into it little by little the rice that has been washed and dried. Stir and add the broth from the first saucepan.

When the rice is almost cooked add the crayfish that you have put aside, or rather its meat extracted from the shells, remove from the heat and pour over it the fish mixture, adding some grated cheese. Beat well.


(Riso alla Milanese con Zafferano)

Wash and dry the rice and put it in boiling broth (beef or chicken broth). When the rice is half cooked add half its weight of marrow of beef bone, cut into small pieces. A few minutes are sufficient for the cooking of the marrow. Add grated cheese and remove the pot from the cooker.

Dissolve some saffron in one or two tablespoonfuls of broth; sift it through a sieve and mix with rice, which is to be served very hot, and makes an excellent soup.


(Risotto al Barolo)

6 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cups short-grained rice

1 cup red wine (Barolo)

About 4 cups of beef stock

3 cups Parmesan cheese, grated

seasoning to taste

truffles to taste

Heat half the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and fry onion until translucent and golden. Add the rice and stir gently until translucent. Pour the wine into the pan and allow to come to the boil. Gradually add the pre-heated stock ladle by ladle.

Allow the rice to simmer gently over a low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the remaining butter and cheese. Season to taste and add shaved truffles.


(Risotto alla Romana)

small piece of ham fat
1 stalk of celery
1 onion
2 mushrooms canned, or 1 fresh mushroom
1/3 pound of lean beef

Chop these ingredients together and put them into a large saucepan with a small piece of butter. Cook until the meat is well browned. Then add one tablespoon of red or white wine. 

Cook for a few minutes, then add one tablespoon of tomato paste dissolved in a little hot water, or two and one-half tablespoons of the other tomato sauce. Cook well, adding from time to time a little water�€”one-half cup in all. 

Add the rice (a little less than a cupful), add it to the other ingredients in the saucepan, and cook for about twenty minutes, until the rice is soft, adding more water from time to time. 

Then add two tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, mix well, and serve, with more cheese if desired.


Take a small piece of onion, slice into small bits, and put into a saucepan with two tablespoons of butter. Cook until onion is browned.

Add one-half cup of arborio rice. Put it into the saucepan with the onion, add salt and pepper, and fry until the rice is dry. 

Then take one and one-half tablespoons of tomato paste, thinned with hot water (or two tablespoons of other tomato sauce), and add to the rice. Little by little add hot water until the rice is cooked through (about one cup of hot water). 

Then add grated cheese, Parmesan or Gruyere, one and one-half tablespoons of butter, and mix well over the fire, then serve.

This rice can be served alone or with fried sausages, or with cold chicken, or any left-over meat prepared in the following manner:

Take one and one-half tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Cut the cold meat into slices, and add them to the butter. Fry well, then take one and one-half tablespoons of tomato paste, thinned in water (or three tablespoons tomato sauce). Add to the meat a little at a time. 

Simmer for one-half hour, then put into the middle of hot platter, surrounded by rice, and pour this sauce over all. Add a handful of grated Parmesan cheese to the rice.

This preparation of meat can be served with macaroni or corn-meal instead of the rice.


(Riso in Bianco)

Take one-half cup of rice. Boil in salted water. After twenty minutes of boiling take off the fire and drain. Then put the rice back into a saucepan with three tablespoons of grated cheese (Parmesan) and three tablespoons of butter.

Mix well and serve as an entree, or around a plate of meat.


Boil a cup of rice soft in hot water. Shake it now and then, but do not stir it. Drain it, add a little milk in which a beaten egg has been mixed, one teaspoon of butter, and a little pepper and salt.

Simmer for five minutes, and if the rice has not absorbed all the milk, drain it again.

Put the rice around a dish, smooth it into a wall, wash it over with the yolk of a beaten egg, and put it into the oven until firm.

Take the strained juice and pulp of seven or eight tomatoes, season with pepper, a little salt and sugar, and one-half of a chopped-up onion; stew for twenty minutes, then stir in one tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons of fine bread crumbs.

Stew three or four minutes to thicken, and then pour the tomatoes into the dish, in the middle of the rice, and serve.


Cut into small pieces one ounce of raw ham, fat and lean. Chop up fine a small piece of onion, and put it with the ham into a frying-pan with one-half a tablespoon of butter. Fry slowly until the ham and onions are golden.

Then add one-half cup of uncooked rice; when it has cooked for a few minutes, add twice its height of bouillon (or water), salt and pepper, a dash of nutmeg, and mix well and allow it to boil for twenty minutes over a medium heat.

Then take off the stove, add two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of Parmesan cheese grated; mix well and serve.


mushroom and spinach risotto 6 brown mushrooms
3/4 of a cup of rice
1 small bunch of spinach, sliced

Chop up a little onion, parsley, celery, and carrot together, and put them on the cooker with two tablespoons of good olive-oil.

When this sauce has colored, add two tablespoons of tomato paste, thinned with hot water (or a corresponding quantity of tomato sauce).

Season with salt and pepper. Cut the mushrooms into small pieces, and add them to the sauce. Cook for twenty minutes over a medium heat. Put on one side and prepare the rice as follows:

Fry the rice with a lump of butter until dry; then add hot water, a little at a time, and boil gently. When the rice is half cooked (after about ten minutes) add the mushrooms, and sauce, and cook for another ten minutes. Add spinach in the last minute. Add grated Parmesan cheese before serving.


(Risotto al'Italiana)

Fry a small onion slightly in butter, then add half a pint of very good stock. Boil four ounces of rice, but do not let it get pulpy, add it to the above with three medium-sized tomatoes in a puree. Mix it all up well, add more stock, and two tablespoonsful of grated Parmesan and Cheddar mixed, and serve hot.


(Risotto alla Genovese)

Ingredients: Rice, beef or veal, onions, parsley, butter, stock, Parmesan, sweetbread or sheep's brains.

Cut up a small onion and fry it slightly in butter with some chopped parsley, add to this a little veal, also chopped up, and a little suet. Cook for ten minutes and then add two ounces of rice to it. 

Mix all with a wooden spoon, and after a few minutes begin to add boiling stock gradually; stir with the spoon, so that the rice whilst cooking may absorb the stock; when it is half cooked add a few spoonfuls of good gravy and a sweetbread or sheep's brains (previously scalded and cut up in pieces), and, if you like, a little powdered saffron dissolved in a spoonful of stock and three tablespoonsful of grated Parmesan and Cheddar mixed. 

Stir well until the rice is quite cooked, but take care not to get it into a pulp.


(Risotto alla Spagnuola)

Ingredients: Rice, pork, ham, onions, tomatoes, butter, stock, vegetables, Parmesan.

Put a small bit of onion and an ounce of butter into a saucepan, add half a pound of tomatoes cut up and fry for a few minutes. Then put in some bits of loin of pork cut into dice and some bits of lean ham. 

After a time add four ounces of rice and good stock, and as soon as it begins to boil put on the lid and put the saucepan on a moderate heat. 

When the rice is half cooked add any sort of vegetable, by preference peas, asparagus cut up, beans, and cucumber cut up, cook for another quarter of an hour, and serve with grated Parmesan and Cheddar mixed.


(Risotto alla Capuccina)

Ingredients: Risotto, eggs, truffles, smoked tongue, butter.

Make a good risotto, and when cooked put it into a fireproof dish. When cold cut into shapes with a ramekin mold and fry for a few minutes in butter, then turn the ramekins out, scoop out a little of each and fill it with eggs beaten up, cover each with a slice of truffle and garnish with a little chopped tongue. Put them into a moderate oven for ten minutes.


(Risotto alla Parigina)

Ingredients: Risotto, game, sauce, butter.

Make a good risotto, and when cooked pour it into a fireproof dish, let it get cold, and then form it into little balls about the size of a pigeon's egg. Fry these in butter and serve with a rich game sauce poured over them.

Risotto Recipes -Tips on How to Cook Risotto

  • Do not wash your rice beforehand. It is the starch in the rice that allows this dish to be successful.
  • Pre-cook your rice by frying it over a low heat in butter first. This cooks the outer layers of the starch granules and adds to the quality and flavor of your risotto.
  • Only add hot stock to your rice. Adding cold stock will make it gluggy.
  • Only add one ladle at a time and wait for the rice to absorb all the liquid before adding another.
  • When you remove the risotto from the heat beat in extra butter or the cheese to give it the rich, creamy texture you expect from risotto.
  • Good risotto is when it is so thick that you can stand a spoon in it!

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