Risotto Recipe. Arborio and all Variations

Risotto is our high-maintenance kitchen friend:

It demands constant attention because the liquids is added in stages. The good news, though, risotto is very versatile and can easily make a complete meal; besides, the cooking doesn’t take too long. I am including here several interesting risotto combinations, so feel free to mix and match! If you are a whole-grain nut, like me, you will have no trouble finding brown arborio rice: the risotto will take a little longer and won’t look as pristine as its white cousin, but will be every bit as delicious.

Saffron does wonders for risottos, whose main trademark it is:

Don’t skip it! Expensive but well worth it. Besides, the larger container the more cost-effective, so ignore those teeny and exorbitantly priced vials, and get yourself an ounce box.

Scroll down for all my Variations on Risotto!


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 cups baby spinach
  • 1 dozen thin asparagus, tough ends discarded, cut into inch sections
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh green peas
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 medium shallots, chopped
  • 2 cups arborio rice


  • Good pinch saffron
  • 2 cups (inexpensive) champagne, dry white wine or sake
  • 4 cups hot water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley


Heat the oil in a wide heavy skillet.

Add the spinach, asparagus, and peas and sauté just a minute or two until the leaves are wilted. Reserve. In the same skillet, heat the oil and add the onion and shallot. Sauté until translucent. Add the arborio and sauté 2 more minutes.

Reduce the temperature to medium.

Add the saffron and wine, and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the hot water, one cup at a time, adding the next cup only when the first has been absorbed. Total rice cooking time will be about 20 minutes. When the rice is tender, stir in the reserved vegetable mixture, salt, pepper, and parsley and heat through, 2 to 3 more minutes. The mixture will be creamy. Serve hot.

Makes 8 servings.

Variations on Risotto:

  • Use Swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, watercress, or arugala instead of the spinach. Remove all tough stems, reserving them for another use, and slice the leaves thin.
  • Throw in frozen artichoke hearts or bottoms, diced.
  • Sauté 1½ pounds mushrooms, any kind you can afford, in any combination you like, and stir into the dish, in addition or instead of the leaves.
  • Stir in your favorite herbs—basil, rosemary, thyme, sage—one to two at a time, and get different flavors each time.
  • Stir in some freshly grated Parmesan at the end of cooking.
  • Throw in some diced natural (no nitrites) smoked turkey or diced cooked chicken.
  • Throw in some flaked mock crab or diced mock shrimp.
  • Throw in a handful toasted chopped nuts.
  • Stir in some crumbled seaweed (nori, hijiki, wakame, arame, kombu, etc.) and/or some sprouts (soy, alfalfa, radish, mung, lentil, etc.).
  • Make the dish with another grain: wild rice, brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, etc. It won’t be called risotto, but so what, it will be delicious too and will allow you to play and get different and interesting results each time! Cook the grain as you usually do, using the liquid all at once (as opposed to one cup at a time as you would for arborio), water and wine, or all water, then combine it with your sautéed veggies and other additions, just as suggested in this recipe’s variations.
  • If you would rather have pasta, proceed just as above, but use your favorite whole-grain pasta instead of rice.

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