Cooking The Italian Way – Risotto

You want to know how to make a room full of southern Italians (Sicilians no less!) become. Completely. Quiet.

We’re talking pin-dropping silence here. Tension so thick you could cut it. With a scalpel. (Oh, anatomy lab. It all comes back to you now, doesn’t it…)

I don’t know if you’ve ever met a Sicilian before. But we’re not exactly known for our indoor voices. Imagine a construction crew. Blasting TNT. Outside your window. That’s the volume that my father speaks at. In normal conversation.

So this is no easy feat.

Unless of course. You know the magic word.

Risotto is a northern Italian dish you see. And southern Italians? Don’t get along very well with northern Italians. So when you tell your Sicilian family that you’re making risotto for dinner. It doesn’t always go over so well.

There may be yelling and screaming. But most likely. There will be silence. Because they are so mad that words just don’t suffice (that’s the irony of this whole being loud thing. They are loud when they’re happy. Loud when they’re angry. And silent when they’re livid.)

So then you sit them down. And explain to them that we live in a modern world. A world in which everyone should live in peace and harmony, with no animosity towards anyone else.

They may look at you skeptically. They may be seething with rage. There will probably be sighing. And head shaking. (What did we DO to raise a daughter like this?)

But they love you. And so they sigh. And begrudgingly agree to eat the risotto. That you have stood over the stove cooking for the past thirty minutes. Stirring. And stirring. And stirring. (Why hello carpal tunnel syndrome, how nice to meet you!)

So you sit down to eat. And what ensues? Is more silence. Because they are eating. And eating. And eating. And eating.

Whoever said that food heals all wounds. (Yes I totally took creative license with that idiom. Time is nice. But food is better.) Definitely knew what they were talking about it.
So here are two of my favorite risotto recipes. You can make them with arborio rice. Which is the traditional way to do it. I usually use orzo because it’s less expensive and more readily available. The directions are the same either way and the end product is equally as delicious!

Orzotto with Leeks and Sun-dried Tomatoes
Serves 4, adapted from Williams-Sonoma Risotto

8 cups broth
2 tbsp olive oil
3 leeks, white parts only
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 lb orzo
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
2 tbsp butter

Bring the broth to a simmer. Heat the oil.

Saute the leeks and the pepper until softened (season with salt!), about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add the orzo to the pan and saute for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine. Cook on medium heat until the wine is almost evaporated, stirring constantly. Add in the simmering stock a ladleful at a time, each time waiting until it is almost all evaporated to add the next ladle.

Stir. Constantly.

When the orzo is tender, stir in the leek/pepper mixture and the sun-dried tomatoes. Cook to heat through. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Orzotto with Spinach
Serves 6, adapted from Williams-Sonoma Risotto

7 cups broth, lightly simmering
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped into small pieces
1 lb spinach, chopped
3 cups orzo (or arborio rice)
1 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion and saute for 4 minutes. Add the spinach, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a bowl. Leave as many of the onions as you can.

2. Add the orzo to the pan and saute for 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until absorbed. Add the stock one ladleful at a time, constantly stirring and only adding the next ladleful once the previous one is almost evaporated. Do this until the orzo is cooked. Then stir in the spinach, butter, and parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Happy eating! And feel free to check out more Italian recipes on my blog.


Risotto is one of my favorite sides. I am a total cheater, though. I put all of the ingredients in my electric pressure cooker and 10 minutes later, the aborio is creamy. I love your variations and will have to see how they do in the cooker.


Funny story about your family. I just made my first risotto ever last weekend. It was good but took longer than it was supposed to, I think I had my pot too crowded.

Martha's Menagerie

Awesome recipes Joanne – and you totally crack me up. It’s funny because it’s all so true! I can remember when I was younger friends who weren’t Italian later admitting that my family was so loud that we frightened them at first, LOL! Gotta love it 🙂