Who Says Rice is the Only Grain You Can Risotto?

December 22, 2017

In the wintertime (let's be honest: all the time), I take any excuse I can to make risotto. I love to indulge in the hypnotic process of whipping up a batch without a recipe, patiently stirring, adding broth, stirring, adding broth until it's creamy and al dente.

Most often, at least in the U.S., risotto is made with arborio rice: a starchy, short-grained variety that produces a creamy, luxurious finished dish. I have no problem with arborio rice—I love arborio rice! I use it to make Marcella Hazan's rice and smothered cabbage, comforting risi e bisi, and bright, seafood-packed risottos.

But! Arborio is not the be-all and end-all of risotto grains. In fact, the risotto method (sweat alliums, toast grains, gradually add broth, stir often) can be achieved with many grains (and grain-like things), to many different, delicious ends. Try subbing in farro for a sweet, earthy dish, or use mung beans for a risotto-like Indian venn pongal. If you want to be really kooky, skip the grains and legumes altogether in favor of sunflower seeds. (Trust us, it's genius.)

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So go ahead—try subbing in barley or oats or wheat berries in your next risotto and see if you like the chewier, nuttier result. Or just turn to these 8 recipes—and get the Parmesan ready.

Do you ever risotto anything other than arborio rice? Give us some grain subbing inspiration in the comments!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • zoemetro uk
    zoemetro uk
  • FrugalCat
  • boymeetsgirlmeetsfood
  • CanadaDan
  • AntoniaJames
A kitchen scientist and dog-lover. Someday I want to have you over for dinner.


zoemetro U. September 16, 2018
One evening I went to my pantry to discover that there was not enough arborio for the recipe so I subbed forbidden rice (the black one) and it worked like a charm. It also provides a fab background for protein or vegetables. I also love to mix barley and farro.
FrugalCat December 24, 2017
How about quinoa?
Catherine L. December 25, 2017
I've never tried it! I'd worry that quinoa would get mushy since it doesn't have the same bite as farro or barley, but give it a go and let us know!
boymeetsgirlmeetsfood December 23, 2017
We make barleysotto, and absolutely love it! It gets super creamy and has a nice texture and nuttiness to it- pairs really nicely with beetroot and greens.
CanadaDan December 22, 2017
I make a stupid good mushroom and chorizo barley risotto...
AntoniaJames December 22, 2017
Farro is the best thing, ever, to happen to risotto. ;o)