Risotto is easier to make than you think. Here's a foolproof recipe for mushroom risotto

If you’ve avoided making risotto in the past because you fear it’s a laborious task, I've got good news for you. It’s true that for the best outcome, risotto should be stirred regularly, but not constantly, which is the misconception that usually scares people off. Why is stirring important? Arborio, or short grain rice has a high level of starch on the surface. When the starch is rubbed from the grain (by stirring), it thickens the cooking liquid and creates a creamy risotto — without the addition of cream. And this happens quickly, in just 20 minutes, so it’s not an arduous assignment.

My go-to, super creamy risotto recipe features plump rice and garlicky mushrooms in a velvety parmesan-spiked sauce. And, like I mentioned before, that creaminess comes from starchy rice, not the addition of dairy. The juicy, flavorful mushrooms make for an even better risotto experience, so I like to pile more on top before serving, making this the ultimate mushroom risotto.

That said, the variations are endless, so if you don't like mushrooms, I have some alternative options for you.

The creaminess in risotto isn't from the addition of dairy, but from the starch released by the rice during cooking.
The creaminess in risotto isn't from the addition of dairy, but from the starch released by the rice during cooking.

Risotto 101

You can enjoy satiny, savory risotto any night of the week, since the variations are endless. But, there are a few tips you should follow no matter what kind of risotto you make.

Use risotto rice. Called Arborio rice, this short grain rice is unlike other rice varieties because of its high level of surface starch. As mentioned above, it’s the starch that thickens the sauce. In addition, Arborio rice maintains its integrity during cooking and stirring, and the result is a creamy sauce with al dente grains. Other rice varieties will turn to mush under the same circumstances.

Risotto is a classic rice dish, and it's easier to make than you might think.
Risotto is a classic rice dish, and it's easier to make than you might think.

Use a wide pot. When using a wider pot, you have more wiggle room when it comes to stirring. Classic risotto was traditionally made by Italians in tall, narrow risotto pots. Narrow pots meant that the ingredients (rice and broth) were higher up, and therefore needed to be stirred almost constantly to ensure even cooking. Spread your ingredients out in a wide pot and you won’t have to be so attentive.

Choose your favorite mushrooms. I prefer cremini (baby bella) mushrooms in risotto because I like how they deliver more earthy, umami flavor compared to white button mushrooms. They’re also easy to find and equally affordable. While there’s no need to hunt down wild, exclusive varieties, you can certainly use other mushrooms, including chanterelle, morel, shiitake, portobello, enoki and oyster. In the recipe below, I’ve given you the option of using 1 ½ to 2 pounds of mushrooms, that said, I prefer a mushroomy risotto, not one where you need to dig around to find the fungi. For that reason, I used 2 pounds — with most of the mushrooms folded into the risotto and the rest spooned over top before serving. Use your judgement on how much to use. If you don't like mushrooms, simply leave them out.

Sauté the mushrooms first. For maximum mushroom flavor, sauté them in olive oil before adding them to the risotto. Golden, tender mushrooms deliver more flavor than those that aren’t pan-seared. Once sautéed, reserve some of the mushrooms for garnish. You simply can’t beat the presentation.

Use olive oil and butter. Some risotto recipes call for oil, while others call for butter. I prefer to use both: olive oil for sautéing the mushrooms and butter for adding richness.

Risotto starts with starchy arborio rice simmered in white wine.
Risotto starts with starchy arborio rice simmered in white wine.

Use shallots if possible. Shallots deliver a sweet onion flavor with a hint of garlic, so they’re a one-stop shop for great flavor. If you don’t have shallots, you can substitute yellow onion.

Add white wine for depth. White wine not only adds complexity to the risotto, its sweetness partners well with the earthy mushrooms and salty parmesan cheese. Dry white wine is preferable, and I recommend Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. You may also use Chardonnay or Riesling. If you’d rather not use alcohol, replace it with broth.

Use good-quality broth and warm it before using. The only liquid needed for risotto is broth — chicken broth (or chicken stock), vegetable broth or mushroom broth — so choose one with a respectable flavor. You don’t need an expensive brand, just one with depth. You must also bring your broth to a simmer before adding it to the risotto. If your broth is cold, it will halt the cooking process every time you add it to the pot.

Know when your risotto is finished. Authentic, Italian risotto is loose, boasting a porridge-like consistency.  When served, it should spread out in the bowl, not hold its shape. The grains of rice should be al dente, not mushy, and the mixture should be creamy. If your risotto is too thick, add more broth as needed.

Risotto is a classic rice dish, and it's easier to make than you might think.
Risotto is a classic rice dish, and it's easier to make than you might think.

What if your rice isn’t finished cooking when you've used all the broth? If your rice is still undercooked when the broth is gone, add hot water, ½ cup at a time, and cook until the grains are al dente. The rice should be puffed up and tender on the outside, with a little bite in the middle.

Opt for fresh thyme. Fresh thyme delivers a strong herbal flavor, with floral notes similar to lavender and rosemary. There’s also a hint of black pepper, which marries well with the saltiness of the cheese. If desired, you can use dried thyme instead of fresh.

Use good-quality parmesan cheese. We rely on parmesan cheese for its nutty, umami addition, so choose a nice cheese with bold flavor. You don’t need an expensive brand, just avoid the shaker-style, shelf-stable parmesan cheese and go with fresh. For the most distinct cheese flavor, grab a wedge and freshly grate it.

Risotto is a classic rice dish, and it's easier to make than you might think.
Risotto is a classic rice dish, and it's easier to make than you might think.

Mushroom risotto

Risotto can be served as an entrée or hearty side dish. When serving as a main dish, I suggest a crisp green salad on the side. Once your risotto has cooled, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating in a saucepan on the cooktop. Add broth as needed when reheating.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings


  • 5 ½ cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or mushroom broth, divided

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 ½ to 2 pounds cremini or white mushrooms, stem ends trimmed, caps thinly sliced (for a mushroom-forward risotto, use 2 pounds)

  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided

  • 2 shallots, diced or ⅓ cup diced yellow onion

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 ½ cups uncooked arborio rice

  • ½ cup dry white wine

  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  1. Bring the broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Keep the broth warm over low heat while making the risotto.

  2. Heat the oil in a large, wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until golden and soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to bowl, along with any liquid from the pan.

  3. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and stir to coat. Cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant.

  4. Add the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is no longer visible, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

  5. Return most of the mushrooms to the pan (including any liquid from the bowl), reserving some of the mushrooms for garnish. Add enough of the broth to cover the rice by about ½-inch. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed, stirring often, and ensuring nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.

  6. Continue adding broth when the rice is almost dry, adding just enough to cover the rice and stirring often. Cook until the rice is tender, but still al dente, about 20 minutes.

  7. Stir in a cup of parmesan cheese, the remaining tablespoon of butter and parsley and remove the pan from the heat.

  8. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Ladle the risotto into shallow bowls and top with the reserved mushrooms. Serve with extra parmesan cheese on the side.

More Italiano: The only meat sauce recipe you'll ever need is this 8-ingredient weeknight pasta Bolognese

Questions or comments? Email the culinary team at cooking@azcentral.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Risotto is actually easy to make. Here's your new favorite recipe