The Genius Little Secrets of Creamy, Rule-Breaking, Truly One-Pot Risotto

January 10, 2018

Over the years, I've tried my share of novel tricks for outsmarting risotto—like oven-baking, and what I can only call carbonara-ifying—and always wandered back to something akin to the traditional method of ladling and stirring, ladling and stirring.

Even though the very ethos of Genius Recipes is to question the cooking rules we’ve been taught—why truss our chickens if we don’t need to? why simmer tomato sauce all day?—I’ve never fallen for any risotto technique that bucked tradition*, though I’ve certainly tried. Maybe it's because following tradition here isn’t that much of a burden (what's an active 30 minutes, anyway?)—and it’s actually pretty fun, in that witch-over-a-bubbling-cauldron sort of way.

This convenient heresy alarms even longtime cooks at Zuni, but it has not failed me.
Judy Rodgers

So when former Food52 editor and Genius-sniffer-outer Sarah Jampel sent me this risotto from Judy Rodgers, the late chef and driving force behind San Francisco’s Zuni Café, I was game to give it a go like any other, but didn't expect it to change my routine. Instead of the usual sautéed mushrooms or peas, the recipe called for chunks of fresh grapefruit and lime that dissolve into colorful flecks. Huh! Well, okay! But as I kept reading, that wasn’t nearly the most shocking part.

Firstly, in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook’s section on risotto, Rodgers wrote that, for years, she had added just-simmering stock to hers, as tradition would dictate. “Then, after I casually made a fine risotto using room temperature stock, I started experimenting with cold, warm, and hot stock and found I could make a creamy risotto with any one.”

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So there goes one rule. This means from now on, in perpetuity, you can grab any stock out of your fridge or pantry and get your risotto going right away, without waiting for a pot to simmer, saving yourself burner space and a pan to wash. Your dinner can be truly one-pot, without any compromise. “This convenient heresy alarms even longtime cooks at Zuni,” she continued, “but it has not failed me.”

Unlike traditional teachings, Rodgers also wasn’t concerned about how frequently you add more stock, or how much it absorbs along the way, as long as the grains don’t completely dry out. “It is only the final doses that require thoughtful judgment, to make sure you don’t add more stock than an al dente grain needs.”

Rodgers was a methodical chef and recipe developer, who famously taught us the benefits of salting our ingredients, then sticking them in the fridge to wait hours or days until they’re the best versions of themselves. She helmed one legendary restaurant for 26 years and wrote just one book, a thoughtful, 500-plus-page opus containing innumerable lessons on deeply-considered cooking. She doesn’t strike me as a sucker for time-saving hacks. I've been making risotto her streamlined way ever since and it hasn't failed me yet, either.

Perhaps I should have heard these rules debunked long ago, but why do so many recipes and technique videos continue to call for hot stock to be added bit by little bit—maybe it’s because we secretly like doing it? Or because we like to test our fellow cooks’ commitment levels? Or because enough recipe writers just haven’t questioned what they’d been taught. We can’t question everything, after all. But I’m glad that someone did.

*Except that one time, with the sunflower seeds. But that was just good fun!

Photos by Julia Gartland

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to the one and only Sarah Jampel for this one!

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


durun99 January 15, 2018
I made this yesterday and it was wonderful, like everything else I've ever made out of the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which is a treasure. Thanks for sharing.
Alanna January 12, 2018
Love Judy and this ode to her risotto! I read those words when I got her book 10 or so years ago and they always stuck with me through many batches of risotto. I believe she also says she'd rather use water than poor-tasting stock or something equally scandalous?! This citrusy version sounds divine, and I'm absolutely smitten with Julia's beautiful photos. <3
Deborah D. January 11, 2018
There is no need for innovation in making risotto, which is already a perfect technique and an ethereal dish when made properly. In other words, if it's not broke don't try to fix it. Like Victor states, citrus and fruit risottos are very common in Italy (but I wouldn't necessarily use chicken broth...better vegetable broth) and certainly not "stock" which is too flavor heavy for risotto (and never used by Italians). As for adding cold broth, it actually slows down the cooking process and stops the rice from cooking evenly — so elongates the process and is counterproductive in the end.
Michael S. January 10, 2018
I make my risottos in a pressure cooker, thanks to Lorna Sass and her Cooking Under Pressure series. Really fast and easy, and super reliable.
Karen M. January 15, 2018
I just purchased an Instant Pot and am looking forward to making Risottos in it.
No way am I interested in standing over a pot for 30 minutes :-)
Il C. January 10, 2018
Nothing new in methods. It just takes a little longer to cook the risotto if you use room temperature or refrigerated stock. I tend to like my risotto a little soupy so I tend to add a little more stock at the end. It gives a more creamy texture. I'm going to have to try Judy's recipe with the citrus touch.
Just picked up an incredible cooking book in Italy called La Cucina Regionale Italina. It's over 1600 pages and breaks down recipes by every region of Italy. A bargain at 9.90 euros. Only catch is you have to be able to read Italian. There's over 50 risotto recipes-how about Risotto a La Rane (Veneto)?
Marcella H. January 10, 2018
There is less innovation to this recipe than may appear. Cold stock? Why not? Marcella has long since said it's okay, it just takes a few moments longer to act. Grapefruit? Venetians have used strawberries, oranges, lemons for decades. It's a matter of taste. I prefer other flavors. I also prefer to to put in the added ingredient as early as possible, so that it becomes fully integrated with the risotto. That is what makes risotto different from pasta, Mascarpone? it will never produce the succulent creaminess of the mantecare step, executed off heat with the best butter beaten in little by little, and then several generous swirls of parmigiano-reggiano. Conclusion, paraphrasing Dr. Johnson: What is good about it is not new, what is new, is not particularly good. Victor.
Deborah D. January 11, 2018
There is no need for innovation in making risotto, which is already a perfect technique and an ethereal dish when made properly. In other words, if it's not broke don't try to fix it. Like Victor states, citrus and fruit risottos are very common in Italy (but I wouldn't necessarily use chicken broth...better vegetable broth) and certainly not "stock" which is too flavor heavy for risotto (and never used by Italians). As for adding cold broth, it actually slows down the cooking process and stops the rice from cooking evenly — so elongates the process and is counterproductive in the end.
beejay45 June 24, 2018
Although I love a lot about the Zuni Cookbook, I'm with you on this. There's something very soothing about making a full-on, classic risotto. Everything ready, that hypnotic stirring, watching it all come together. Of course, I imagine in a restaurant, the quicker the better, but I'm sticking to the classic method. There have been a lot of times I came home frazzled and got a risotto on the table in a remarkably zen-like state of mind. ;)
marcella F. January 10, 2018
The rice will only take a bit longer to cook if you add cold liquid to it (little by little). Indeed even with tap-cold water you only need moments for everything to get back to a rolling boil so... no big deal really.
What could actually make a difference is dumping in all of your liquid at once vs. adding it little by little. But _this_ is tricky, as many factors can determine how much and how fast the rice will absorb - type of rice, presence of other "wet" ingredients (say spinach, mushrooms, etc.), temp of the liquid, heat level, and so on - making it difficult to state from the start how much liquid you will need.
Claire B. January 10, 2018
I teach children as young as three years old to cook creative, sophisticated, FUN food. I’d love to join forces with Food52 as your family cooking contributor. Check out my work on Instagram, FB or here:
Thank you,
Claire Berger
Victoria C. January 10, 2018
I have a friend, who is a professional chef, who taught me a great way to make grits. It's more of a method than a recipe, but it works for me.
She uses Quaker Grits, Old Fashioned, not Quick. For two servings, she puts 1 cup chicken stock in a sauce pan, brings it to a boil, then adds ¼ cup of the grits. When it comes to a boil again, she turns the heat way down, covers the pot, and cooks it until the grits start to thicken a little. For me this usually takes about ten minutes. Then she stirs the mixture and starts mounting the it with heavy cream, adding it slowly, but for a long time. She keeps the burner low, adds a little cream, stirs. She does not cover the pot at this point, and she keeps doing this for at least 20 minutes, but I have done it over a very low flame for longer. You would be surprised how much cream you can add. When it's the consistency you like - I like it so thick it doesn't spread on the plate but is still creamy - you can go crazy and add a pat of butter (or not). It's delicious and goes well with LOTS of dishes.
martha1108 January 10, 2018
Sounds delicious. Does she add the remaining grits just before she covers the pot?
Ian S. January 10, 2018
Thanks Ewan & Rick, didn't get button in UK, but found it going directly online and refreshing page....then it popped up....I'll try it, Cheers!
Susan M. January 10, 2018
Funny you ask about a "Friend" who never follows a recipe! My husband always ask me to write down what I just prepared in hopes he can have the same thing twice! He knows now that he will never get the same dish again if he doesn't because I never follow a recipe. It is only because I may not have all the ingredients that the recipe calls for OR because I may not be fond of certain ingredients that the recipe may call for!
LOVE, LOVE FOOD 52!!!! You guys do a fantastic job! Congratulations on a very great job! 👍🏼❤️
Lazyretirementgirl January 10, 2018
Story of my life! 🤣
Karen M. January 15, 2018
Woman after my own heart. I feel the same way. Following someone else's recipe all the time does not offer the same spiritual creative energy.
Julie January 10, 2018
I love risotto (it is my go to comfort food) -- but because I am lazy and not a genius I have been doing what Rodgers has suggested for years with excellent results -- nice to get validated (lol)
Ian S. January 10, 2018
This is about as genius as Donald Trump!
OK, lets try it out....Except, no details given for what Gas/temp' oven should be at; or for how long to cook, which also means getting the pot in & out of the oven to check state of the risotto (unless this is an in-built-aerobic excerise plan as well)?
We maybe all cook it traditionally because that is the Italian way to do it, Slow Food rules! As well as being able to feel the rice and taste for ideal cooking period...yeah or nay?
Rick W. January 10, 2018
If you click the ‘go to recipe’ button at the bottom of the ingredients list, all the steps are there.
Ewan January 10, 2018
Ian, I don't mean to be rude, but did you read the instructions? It says cook at a simmer on the cooker, no mention of using the oven . The temperature will depend on your pot and the cooker you are using.

Like Julie above, I've been cooking risotto this way for years and it works fine. I tend to make up my stock with boiling water if I'm using dry cubes/powder, or defrosting home made frozen stock "ice cubes". Ive never thought about adding fruit however. I'll see whats at the farmers market this w/end citrus wise.