If you’ve never had it, I like to describe risotto as similar to macaroni and cheese, but with rice. And fancy add-ins. And less cheese. And a more complicated cooking procedure. So nothing like macaroni and cheese, but an equally satisfying comfort food, and an impressive dish to prepare for company. Today let’s talk about how to make risotto, and discuss some variations that will help you make some leftover magic with this dish.

Risotto is a northern Italian dish, most commonly made with arborio rice, pictured below. This is a strain of short grain rice, just as basmati is a strain of long grain rice. Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are a few other strains of rice commonly used in risotto.


Risotto almost always contains onion or shallot, broth, and parmesan cheese. But it can also be a foundation to use up any vegetables or herbs or meat you have laying around, thus it’s a great option for leftovers. You can make a saffron, green bean, and white fish version; a creamy butternut squash and rainbow chard version; ham, scallions, and peas are a popular variation; or you can stick with the classic with white wine, mushrooms and parsley.

While its greatest virtue is its adaptability, the hardest part about making risotto is constant! Vigilance! You need to be in front of the stove, checking the rice every 2-4 minutes while stirring it to absorb the broth, over the span of about 30 minutes or until the rice is cooked al dente.

I’ve developed the recipe below as a basis for your risotto whimsy. You can go a little crazy here, so as a rule of thumb, I would recommend you consider add-ins carefully and stick to three at maximum.


serves 4-6, cooking time approximately 45 minutes

  • 4-6 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth, divided
  • 3 tablespoons canola, coconut, or olive oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, or 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • Vegetables, herbs or protein to add, approximately 2 cups worth (see note below)


  1. In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.
  2. Melt about 2 tablespoons of oil in a high-rimmed skillet or dutch oven. Prepare protein, vegetables, and herbs that you plan to add to the risotto, then transfer to a plate for adding later.
  3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the same skillet, and stir in the shallots or onion while on medium high heat. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed.
  4. Turn the heat down a smidge to medium. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 20 – 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, and stir in butter, parmesan, and the other elements of the risotto. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

You will need to commit to extra prep work depending on what ingredients you add to the risotto. Here is a quick guide for when to prepare and add whichever ingredients you want to include in your risotto:

Herbs/Leafy greens

Delicate herbs can be added in the last few minutes of cooking the risotto. Leafy greens can generally be used the same, though they often take on better flavor if they are wilted or blanched ahead of time. For heartier greens, like spinach or kale, a quick blanch is necessary.


If you’re cooking meat from scratch, have it completely prepared before you make your risotto, and cut up into bite-sized pieces. You will add the meat at the very end of the recipe procedures. Consider adding leftover portions from your refrigerator; alternatively, rotisserie chicken is an excellent add-in for risotto!

Frozen vegetables

Frozen vegetables do not need to be thawed before being added to risotto. They should be added about 5 minutes before the end of the recipe procedures; a little bit before you would add herbs.

Fresh vegetables

As with meats, cook and chop all fresh vegetables prior to starting the risotto, and add them in at the end. How you prepare your vegetables is entirely up to you, but as a general rule, roasting or sauteeing vegetables will give them a distinct texture from the creamy risotto, and make them stand out in the dish. 

Risotto can be a very inexpensive recipe if you keep short grain rice, broth, and parmesan cheese on hand. If you can use bits and pieces from your leftovers, all the better. The dish can be changed according to seasonality or to complement the rest of a meal as a side. Go crazy! But not too crazy. And remember: constant vigilance!

One comment

  1. […] Risotto: Leftover vegetables, meats, and herbs can find new life in this creamy rice dish. Try not to use more than three “mix-ins”, and make sure to factor in time to prepare those ingredients separately from the risotto base. […]

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