I am fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen with many skilled chefs. And without Chef Annette Tomei, I would never know how to make a great risotto. I’m sharing her recipe for Risotto with Italian Sausages, not as much for the ingredients but the technique. The key to this or any risotto recipe is all in how you cook it.
What is risotto?
You’ve probably tasted risotto but you may not know exactly what makes this something special. (And if you’ve ever had a great risotto, you know just how special a creamy bowl of this comforting, Italian rice dish can be.)
Risotto is a northern Italian dish. It’s a simple rice dish but one that is cooked slowly with broth until it reaches a creamy consistency.
A good risotto should be loose, saucy, even. Think of it as a one-pot dish that creates its own sauce.
What kind of rice is used in risotto?
Risotto requires a high starch, short grain variety of white rice. There are several varieties grown and used in Italy to make risotto, including Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma, and Vialone Nano. Of the varieties considered the “best” for making risotto, Carnaroli is the one you can typically find sold in the United States. But it is also a very pricy variety of rice.
Why this risotto recipe calls for Arborio
For this sausage risotto recipe, we’re sticking to the most readily available (and more affordable) risotto rice, Arborio. It is named after the Italian region in which it was first grown. But today you can find this rice grown in the U.S. states of California and Texas as well as imported from Italy. Just be warned that Arborio is easier to overcook than some of the more expensive varieties. Just a minute too long on the stove and it can turn gluey because the rice itself lacks the structure of the “better” varieties of risotto rice.
Risotto rice alternatives
Although this recipe calls for traditional risotto rice, we’re not afraid to experiment with whole grain rice alternatives. If you’ve ever heard of farrotto, this is a whole grain dish made using the risotto technique, only with the ancient grain farro in place of rice. Other healthy risotto alternatives use other grains to try to create a one-pot dish with the creamy character that gives risotto its desirability.
How to make this risotto with Italian sausage
Risotto is a simple dish from a flavor perspective. To make a good risotto, be sure to start with good ingredients. If you live near an Italian butcher, it’s worth the extra stop to pick up great sausage.
How to toast risotto rice
The most important step in making an Italian sausage risotto – or any risotto – is the toasting step. The results of your risotto all depend on how you toast your rice. Once you add the rice to the pan, you have to stir, stir, stir until every piece – every single grain of rice – is opaque. Do not rush this step.
The reason you toast the rice is to develop flavor. The toasting brings out a roasted, nutty quality in the rice. It also prevents the rice from dissolving into a gluey mass if you get the timing wrong. Toasted rice does not produce quite as creamy of a risotto as one made with rice that is not thoroughly toasted but what it lacks in sauciness, it makes up for in flavor. For more information on the chemistry of making risotto, check out this risotto article from Serious Eats.
Risotto recipe variations
Once you get the hang of the risotto technique, you can vary the ingredients with whatever you’re in the mood to try. This risotto recipe works with chicken apple sausage in place of the Italian sausage or asparagus in place of broccolini. Or try finishing the dish with fresh herbs, like shredded basil in summer or parsley and chives in winter.
Risotto with Italian Sausage and Broccolini
- 1 T olive oil
- 4 sweet Italian sausages sliced into ¼ inch rounds
- 1 medium yellow onion chopped
- 1 ½ c arborio rice
- ¼ c dry white wine
- 3 c chicken stock warmed (you can also change the liquid, just keep the amount the same)
- 1 bunch broccolini lightly steamed
- ½ c Parmesan
- 2 T unsalted butter or crème fraiche
- salt to taste
- Heat the oil to medium-high in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Brown the sausage in the oil. Set aside and return the pan to the heat.
- Add the onions to the pan along with a pinch of salt and sauté until limp.
- Add the arborio to the pot and stir and stir and stir until all the grains turn opaque.
- Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed.
- Pour in 2-3 oz warm stock and stir until absorbed. Repeat until all the stock has been absorbed. After the first 8 or so oz, you can begin to add the liquid in larger amounts (it will take considerably longer to be absorbed. This whole process may take up to 20 minutes.) Add the sausage and broccolini with the last of the liquid.
- Once the liquid is all absorbed, check the rice for doneness—it should be al dente. If it is not done to your taste, add a small amount of additional liquid, either stock or warm water, continuing to stir and slowly add liquid until the rice has reached the desired doneness. Once she’s happy that her rice is sufficiently al dente, Annette’s trick for ensuring the proper consistency of the final dish is to drag a spoon through the center of the pan. The risotto should take 3 or 4 seconds to collapse in on itself and re-cover the bottom of the pan.
- Add in the Parmesan and butter or crème fraiche, stirring until cheese is completely incorporated and risotto is creamy. Remove from heat and season with salt to taste before serving on a warm bowl or plate.
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