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Risotto can be easier than you think. These vegetarian recipes prove it.

Risotto can be easier than you think. These vegetarian recipes prove it.

Tomato-Basil Risotto

Makes 4 servings

Medium-grain Italian rice is essential for achieving a rich, creamy consistency, as it has the ideal starch content. Arborio rice is the most common choice for risotto in the United States, but cooks in Milan — and at Milk Street — prefer carnaroli. We find that the grains better retain their structure and resist overcooking. With careful cooking, however, Arborio will yield delicious results. Our homemade vegetable broth is the best cooking liquid for this risotto; its fresh, clean flavor won’t compete with the other ingredients.

The rice needn’t be al dente texture before removing the pan from the burner, as the grains will continue to cook with the residual heat.

Serve in warmed, shallow bowls to prevent the rice from cooling too quickly.

3½ cups vegetable broth (see following recipe)

2 cups chopped tomatoes

Kosher salt

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, divided

1 cup carnaroli or Arborio rice

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (½ cup)

4 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar

Prepare the vegetable broth for risotto (recipe follows), omitting the carrots and increasing the tomatoes to 3. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring the broth, covered, to a simmer, then reduce to low to keep warm. Combine the chopped tomatoes, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and chopped fresh basil; set aside.

In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until translucent at the edges, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add 2½ cups of the hot broth and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and cook, stirring frequently and briskly, until the rice is just shy of al dente but still soupy, 3 to 5 minutes. If the rice is thick and dry but the grains are still too firm, add the remaining hot broth in ¼ cup increments and continue to cook, stirring, until the rice is just shy of al dente.

Off heat, stir in the Parmesan, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, 1 piece at a time. Taste and season with salt, then stir in the vinegar. When the risotto is ready, drain off any liquid from the tomato-basil relish. Top the risotto with the relish.

Easy Vegetable Broth

Makes about 1 quart

This broth can be made in about 30 minutes. Use immediately after straining or cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate for up to five days.

Don’t simmer uncovered; partially covering the pan prevents excessive evaporation, but allows for some concentration of flavors.

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

2 large celery stalks, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 medium tomato, roughly chopped

1 large garlic clove, smashed and peeled

In a large saucepan set over high heat, combine all ingredients with 5 cups water and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pan, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a lively simmer.

Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl; discard the solids.

Risotto With Fresh HerbsConnie Miller/of CB Creatives

Risotto With Fresh Herbs

Makes 4 servings

We learned the principles of risotto from chefs in Milan: Max Masuelli (and his son, Andrea) at Trattoria Masuelli San Marco, who uses neither chicken broth nor onion; and Diego Rossi, of Trippa, who showed us that skipping the traditional wine and adding a splash of sherry vinegar at the end produces bright flavor (we use white balsamic).

The rice needn’t cook to al dente before removing the pan from the burner. The grains will continue to cook with residual heat as the cheese and butter are stirred in.

This should also be served in warmed, shallow bowls to prevent the rice from cooling too quickly.

3½ cups vegetable broth (see previous recipe)

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces, divided

1 cup carnaroli or Arborio rice

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (½ cup)

2 teaspoons minced, fresh thyme

1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions

¼ cup finely chopped parsley

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

Kosher salt

4 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring the broth, covered, to a simmer. Reduce to low to keep warm.

In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until translucent at the edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2½ cups of the hot broth and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently and briskly, until the grains are almost tender but still quite firm at the core (it will be quite soupy), 8 to 10 minutes; adjust the heat as needed to maintain a vigorous simmer.

Add ½ cup broth and cook, stirring frequently and briskly, until the rice is just shy of al dente but still soupy, 3 to 5 minutes. If the rice is thick and dry but the grains are still too firm, add the remaining hot broth in ¼ cup increments and continue to cook, stirring, until the rice is just shy of al dente.

Off heat, stir in the Parmesan, thyme, scallions, parsley, lemon zest, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, 1 piece at a time. Taste and season with salt, then stir in the vinegar. Serve immediately.

Zucchini and Saffron RisottoConnie Miller/of CB Creatives

Zucchini and Saffron Risotto

Makes 4 servings

This vegetarian risotto, a riff on a recipe from Rachael Ray’s book Rachael Ray 50, gets its vibrant color from cooking liquid infused with saffron and is studded with chunks of green zucchini that have been briefly sautéed. Either Arborio or carnaroli rice works, though the former likely is easier to find in supermarkets.

Rather than cook the rice gently, we stir it vigorously — and simmer it briskly — to help release the starch in the grains, resulting in creamy consistency in minimum time.

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest, plus 2 tablespoons orange juice

½ teaspoon saffron threads

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 large zucchini (about 1 pound), quartered lengthwise, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces (about 3 cups)

2 Fresno chilies, stemmed, seeded, and minced or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup Arborio or carnaroli rice

2 ounces Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (1 cup), plus more to serve

2 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 4 pieces

½ cup lightly packed, fresh basil, chopped

In a small saucepan, combine 4 cups water, the orange zest, saffron, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover and reduce to low to keep warm.

In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring only once or twice, until browned at the edges but still crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chilies and ¼ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

In the same saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are translucent at the edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and carefully stir in 3 cups of the saffron water, then bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often and briskly, until the grains are still quite firm at the center, about 8 minutes; adjust the heat as needed to maintain a vigorous simmer.

Add the remaining saffron broth and cook, stirring often and briskly, until the rice is al dente, 6 to 8 minutes; the risotto should be loose but not soupy. If it is stiff and dry, stir in water 1 tablespoon at a time to achieve the proper consistency.

Off heat, stir in the cheese and butter. Stir in the orange juice, basil, and the zucchini mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional cheese.


Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to [email protected]