I heard it said that making risotto is a little bit like riding a bicycle: It takes a little bit of practice to begin with, and a certain amount of concentration thereafter. While most of us think of pasta when we consider Italian foods, rice was introduced here in Italy by the Arabs who dominated Sicily centuries ago. Since the northern, marshy terrain of Piemonte””where we live””was conducive to growing rice, risotto has become a popular staple in northern Italy.


I began experimenting with a variety of risottos after we moved to northern Italy in2008, and included several varieties in my newest cookbook, Around Our Table.  Since risotto is best made with a willing spouse  or friend””who’s willing to stir it almost constantly for 20 minutes””I decided to make it  when my husband’s sister and brother-in-law came to visit last month. Sandra and Nunzio have owned several pizzerias over the years so are used to being in the kitchen and were a lot of fun to work with!


Sandra, my sister-in-law, and Nunzio, her Sicilian-born husband made risotto for our supper together.

While I prepared the rest of our meal, Sandra followed my recipe for Shrimp Risotto from Around Our Table. We ate it as a first course, but you can easily use it as a one-dish meal with a salad on the side.


The first step in making risotto is to bring your broth to a boil and then lower the flame to let it simmer. Generally when you’re cooking rice, you use twice as much broth as rice. However, with risotto, you use nearly three times as much broth since much of it evaporates as you cook. This can result in a salty dish if you use bouillon so homemade or canned stock is best if at all possible. If you only have bouillon, increase the ration of water to bouillon base.

While the broth was heating up, Sandra diced onions”¦


“¦and then sautèed them in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Notice that we used a heavy-bottomed,wide saucepan since some of the broth needs to evaporate.


If you were using raw shrimp, you would sautè them at this point until they turned pink and then use a slotted spoon to set them aside in a bowl.  We used pre-cooked shrimp, so we just added the rice to the onions and stirred it well to coat it with the oil and butter.

When making risotto, it’s important to use a short-grain rice for a creamier risotto. Most Italians use Arborio, but any short-grain””almost round””rice will work. Though I haven’t tried it yet myself, I’ve heard that you can use almost any whole grain to make risotto such as pearl barley, spelt or farro. I’m guessing that some of these other grains may require a longer cooking time but would offer more food value to the risotto.

Sandra “œtoasted” the rice for several minutes until it was translucent. Then she added some white wine””compliments of Nunzio”¦


Remember that broth that we left to simmer on the back burner? Well, Sandra added a ladle-full at a time, stirring each addition until it’s almost absorbed.


You don’t have to stir it constantly, but you definitely have to stir it often, which is why it’s best to make this a community effort by engaging someone else’s help while you prepare other dishes for the meal and set the table.

After adding all the broth, we taste-tested the rice”¦it still had to cook another 4-5 minutes to be  “œal dente”, with a firm center, but not crunchy. Then we added”¦

…the shrimp and some butter…

…freshly grated Parmesan cheese…

…and some fresh parsley…

…and a squeeze of lemon.

Voila! It was ready to enjoy! Buon appetito!

Risotto makes a wonderful meal during these cool winter months. I hope you’ll try it! Here’s my recipe for Shrimp Risotto which serves eight. Sandra and I made only a half of a recipe to serve four.




Yield: Serves 8



  • 9 C. (2 liters) chicken broth, heated
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) medium shrimp, cleaned and deveined or 1 lb. scallops
  • 3 C. (900 g) rice, preferably Arborio or other short-grained rice
  • 1 C. wine (or chicken broth)
  • 1 1/2 C. (60 g) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 T. butter
  • 3 T. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 T. lemon juice


  1. Keep broth heated on a back burner while preparing the rest of the risotto.
  2. Heat 2 T. oil and 2 T. butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook until pink, or cook the scallops just until whitened. Set aside in a bowl.
  3. Add rice to the pan, stirring well to coat with oil. Add wine (or broth), stirring until evaporated and absorbed.
  4. Now begin adding 1 cup of broth at a time to the rice mixture, stirring frequently until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently, until the rice is al dente -- done but not mushy.
  5. When the rice seems al dente, stir in the Parmesan, butter, fresh parsley, and lemon juice. Gently stir in the seafood and heat through.


Pumpkin Risotto: Follow directions for Risotto with Seafood, omitting the shrimp/scallops. After sautèing the onion until tender, add 2 C. diced pumpkin or butternut squash to the pan and sautè about 5 minutes more. Continue with Steps 3-5 (omitting adding the seafood).

Vegetable Risotto: Follow directions for Risotto with Seafood, omitting the shrimp/scallops. Along with the onion in Step 2 sautè 2 diced, red or yellow bell peppers until crisp-tender. Add 2 medium, diced zucchini or yellow summer squash. Sprinkle with salt and cook 2-3 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add 1 T. oil and 1 T. butter to the pan and continue with Steps 3-5, adding the vegetables instead of the seafood at the end. (Broccoli, spinach, grated carrot, and mushrooms also go well in a vegetable risotto if you want to replace some of the above vegetables.)

Cheese Risotto: Follow the directions for Risotto with Seafood, omitting the seafood. When the risotto is done, stir in 1/2 C. each of several types of cheese: mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan, blue cheese, goat cheese. Almost anything works!

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