How to Make Basic Risotto (Without Saffron)

Making risotto is a labour of love, but is every stir worth this creamy and luscious dish? Absolutely!

Before I dive into this recipe, you're probably wondering why things have been quiet around here. This little thing called life happened and my blog got pushed to the back burner. :-)

I went back to school, started teaching English in the evenings, kids are also back in school and daycare, we have done a couple weekend trips, we've had family visit us, and the latest is that our family car has been in the shop for the last five days getting repaired. Aside from all this, there is also homework, housework, kiddie playdates, and laundry. I haven't really been cooking much, either.

I have started delegating some of my work, though. I bring all of my husband's shirts and pants to the laundry cleaner. It saves me a couple of hours a week of washing, drying and ironing his clothes. I can finally concentrate on other things, like this little blog of mine. Next up, is finding a good housekeeper. :-)

The last few months have been really busy (not to mention overwhelming), but I still try to find the time to make a home cooked meal. One of my boys' favourite dishes is risotto. It was also one of my favourite dishes when I was growing up. I usually make this for lunch, but my mom used to serve it as a primo piatto (first course) for dinner.

Making risotto isn't really difficult as one might think. All you need is a little bit of patience and the right type of rice - one with a high starch content. It's what gives the risotto its creaminess. Arborio rice is the most commonly used rice in risotto, but there are more expensive ones, such as Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, and the lesser known Maratelli.

Risotto made with Carnaroli Rice

It is said that Carnaroli is the king of all risotto rice. It's supposed to hold it's shape better during the constant stirring, have more of a bite than Arborio, and it should produce the creamiest risotto ever. Well, I did have my doubts about that, so I set out to try it myself. I ordered package of Carnaroli rice and substituted it for the Arborio in this recipe. 

After the rice was cooked, the grain looked a bit longer than Arborio rice and it did produce an extremely creamy risotto. However, the creaminess was only achieved after I added the Italian grated cheese. Otherwise, I wouldn't have noticed a difference. Would I go out of my way to buy an expensive rice for my risotto? No, not really.

The secret to a good risotto is to cook it slow and steady. Cooking time can vary depending on the type of rice you use, the size of the pan, and the amount of heat that is applied. I usually look for certain characteristics when I make a risotto (along with some tips):
  • use a large heavy-bottomed skillet with tall sides for even cooking.
  • the rice doesn't have to be constantly stirred at the beginning, only towards the end when the risotto has thickened up (but don't walk away for a few minutes either).
  • if the rice sticks to the bottom of pan - don't panic - deglaze with a ladle of broth, scraping the bits off with a wooden spoon (don't forget to scrape the corners of the pan, as well, or they will burn).
  • if the risotto is cooking to quickly then reduce the heat a bit (every stove top varies in heat); if the heat is too high then the liquid will evaporate faster, as opposed to being absorbed into the rice.
  • when liquid has been absorbed into the rice and it feels that it has thickened up, then add another ladle of broth (about every few minutes).

You don't really need a lot of ingredients to make a delicious risotto. Something magical happens when these simple ingredients come together. Each ingredient plays an important roll in this dish.

You start with a generous amount of butter, which is the preferred fat for risotto by most Italians. It adds a richness and depth that you wouldn't get with oil (in my humble opinion). It also marries well with the chopped onion and garlic. Rice is then added to the butter-onion mixture, and cooked for a few minutes until it is opaque in colour.

This dish is then brightened up with a splash of sparkling white wine. I usually use whatever white wine I have on hand - such as Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio - but this time I used Riesling with really good results. After the wine has reduced, then I start adding the chicken broth (you may not use all of it).

Some recipes call for saffron to be added into the broth (typically for risotto alla milanese), but it is expensive and can be hard to find. Mom would always throw in a pinch whenever she had it on hand, but I usually leave it out. Sometimes I use a small pinch of ground turmeric to get that beautiful golden hue without affecting the flavour of the risotto.

After the risotto is cooked, it is enriched with a generous sprinkling of grated grana padano and a knob of butter (this is what gives the risotto it's desired creaminess). It is then covered for a few minutes to let the flavours come together before serving.

This dish originated in northern Italian and is probably one of the most common ways of cooking rice. Everyone has their own preferred way of making it. My dad likes to make his with red wine instead of the traditional white, and leaves it on the soupier side rather than creamy. The recipe I'm sharing today is our favourite way of eating it.

Now that you have some tips and tricks for a successful risotto, give this recipe a try! It might become a favourite in your family, as well. I would love to hear how it went by leaving a comment below. :-)

PS: If you would like to read a bit more on risotto, then you can check out this link here.

(From the Kitchen of For the Love of Italian Cooking)

  • 4-5 cups (1 to 1250 ml) chicken broth (you can also use granular, cubes or homemade)
  • 7 tbsp (100 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion or 2 large shallots, finely chopped 
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 g) Arborio or Canaroli rice
  • 3/4 cup (200 ml) white wine
  • 3/4 cup (80 g) grated Grana Padano or Parmesan, loosely packed
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  1. Heat chicken broth to a rolling boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
  2. Melt seven tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Cook chopped onions till translucent and then add garlic. Cook for another 20-30 seconds, but don't let garlic brown.
  3. Add rice and cook for a few minutes till opaque in colour. Add white wine, turn heat to high, and reduce until wine is almost evaporated. 
  4. Add a ladle of hot chicken broth, stirring constantly till liquid is absorbed into rice and it begins to feel thick. Add another ladle of broth, cook till it is absorbed, and repeat till broth is used up (if more liquid is needed then add hot water).
  5. When rice is plump but al dente, stir in Grana Padano or Parmensan cheese, along with one tablespoon of butter. Cover skillet with lid and let sit for a few minutes before serving. Taste to see if salt and pepper are needed.

(Recipe Created by Me)

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Rosa G.
Hamburg, Germany
Hi! My name is Rosa and welcome to my blog! I'm a fun loving, most-of-the-time stressed mother of three small boys, and a former cubicle dweller turned pastry chef. I am an amateur blogger and food photographer and lover of good Italian food. My food is simple, fresh, and seasonal (with an occasional frozen pizza).