Risotto is easy. No, I'm serious. Sure, sure, sure - I know what you've heard. "You have to stir it for 20 MINUTES!" "It is really time-consuming, you have to keep stirring and stirring!!"
It's true. Risotto IS time-consuming. Yes, you DO have to stir it for 20 minutes. But, after 15 minutes or so of prep & 20 minutes of stirring you have just about the most wonderful, starchy, flavorful and filling dish you can make in less than an hour.
Risotto is a great vehicle for leftovers & excess vegetables but also works well as a basic side dish with onions and parmigiano cheese.
Step 1: The Base
You need to start with a good base. Saute some onions and garlic or maybe some shallots in a little butter (olive oil can also be used). If you have bacon, pancetta or sausage, they also make a good base (though I generally brown them and then remove until the very end, when I add them back to the pot). I generally add some salt, fresh cracked pepper and maybe some red chili flakes or saffron threads now too. Once the onions are translucent you can add some hearty vegetables at this point (zucchini, asparagus spears, tomatoes, peas or even beets).
Step 2: Saute the Rice
Add the rice. You want to use Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Don't rinse it. Just throw it in the pan and saute it with the onions and other base ingredients. Saute the rice and make sure all grains get covered with the butter or oil that is already in the pan.
Step 3: Add the Wine
I generally use white wine or dry Vermouth. If I am using tomatoes or beets however, I'll use red wine. Adding the wine at this point helps deglaze the pan and unstick any brown bits coating the pan. It also adds a whole lotta flavor.
Step 4: Add the Liquid
At this point, the pan will look like a disjointed mess of rice and onions among other flotsam and jetsam. It doesn't look thick and most certainly doesn't look creamy. This is where the dreaded STIRRING comes into play. By adding liquid (up to 2 cups or more) and stirring over medium heat for 20 or so minutes, the rice absorbs the liquid and releases starches that help thicken the whole mix. Add about 1/2 to 1 cup of warm liquid at a time and stir for 2-3 minutes until absorbed. Repeat.
A couple tips regarding cooking liquid. It should be warm. It doesn't really need to be simmering in a pot on the stove like some recipes recommend. Just don't use COLD liquid. I generally use chicken stock. You can use beef or vegetable stock as well. If I am using meat though, I cut the stock in half with hot water. If I am using canned tomatoes, I don't discard the liquid, but rather heat it up and add it to the mix. If I am using dried porcini or other mushrooms, I reconstitute them in hot water and use that liquid as well.
Step 5: Final Testing and Seasoning
After about 20 minutes of stirring, slow down on how much liquid you are adding and begin testing the rice. They should be fairly al dente - that is, slightly chewy & dense. Add additional salt & pepper, fresh herbs and other ingredients now (cooked sausage, asparagus tips, spinach, soaked dried mushrooms, etc.).
Step 6: All'Onda
I like my risotto a little on the runny side, so I don't let all the liquid evaporate off before adding the butter and parmigiano. The Venetians (and my favorite Italian chef Marcella Hazan) call this all'onda or wavy risotto. Once the rice is al dente yet still a little runny, remove it from the heat and add copious amounts of butter and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.