Is Risotto Rice or Pasta?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Many diners in Italian and other Mediterranean restaurants have enjoyed a creamy side dish called risotto for decades. A basic recipe can be modified to accommodate any number of spices, vegetables or meats. But what exactly is it — a creamy form of rice or pasta?

A serving of uncooked Arborio rice.
A serving of uncooked Arborio rice.

The answer is a form of rice, although not the familiar grain rices found in Asian cooking. True risotto is created from one of three forms of rice found in Europe: arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano. Of the three, arborio rice is the most commonly used variety for this dish.

Different types of rice, including risotto rice.
Different types of rice, including risotto rice.

To confuse matters a little, there is also a form of pasta called orzo which looks like grains of rice. Orzo is also used as a flavorful side dish in Mediterranean cuisine and prepared with many of the same spices and vegetables as risotto. The difference is that properly cooked risotto becomes a creamy blend, while orzo tends to maintain individual grains similar to cooked Asian rice.

Risotto is traditionally made with rice.
Risotto is traditionally made with rice.

Risotto is actually the name of the finished dish, not the rice itself. To prepare it, a cook must first obtain a generous supply of arborio rice. Arborio rice is more of a barley grain than a type of traditional white rice.

Unlike in Asian rice dishes, the rice is not boiled in water. It is first placed in a skillet containing olive oil. The cook must keep stirring the arborio rice through the oil until it becomes tender and starchy. Next, some form of meat stock is slowly added. This is done in small batches, with stock being added as the stirred arborio grains absorb the liquid.

After 20 to 30 minutes of nearly constant stirring, the rice should be ready to serve. Ideally, it should creamy, oozing onto the plate much like a lava flow, not thick like mashed potatoes. Creating a perfect dish takes some practice, but there are instant mixes that purport to cut preparation time significantly. Risotto takes time to prepare properly, but the results are usually worth the effort.

A summer risotto can be stirred with fresh tomatoes, herbs, and cheese for an easy but elegant lunch.
A summer risotto can be stirred with fresh tomatoes, herbs, and cheese for an easy but elegant lunch.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@anon48032: Risotto can only be made with rice, as the word itself suggests. I'm Italian and trust me: it is an Italian dish. As a suggestion, you english speaking chefs, stick with barbecue and fried chicken. It's better for everybody. And don't forget to dip your fries in your milkshake.


Risotto does not have to be made with expensive and rare rice like arborio. What must be done though, when using plain white rice or even instant rice, is toast it first. Meaning put the rice you are using into a dry pan (nothing in it, not even oil or water) and keep it moving until it starts to have a nutty smell to it and a tan hue to it. Any executive chef is going to say not to do it this way but hey welfare can't afford arborio.


Whole wheat is wheat and rice is rice. There's no such thing as wheat rice. Brown rice is a whole grain like whole wheat is and is better for you than white rice. I haven't tried it in risotto, however.

Other grains can be used for risotto that are not rice. Farro is especially yummy! It is a whole grain, much healthier for you than white rice.


yes you can make it ahead of time but make sure to cool it down right away below 40 degrees and store in the cooler. You can only keep it for two days: the day it's made and the day after.


can you bake it like pasta?


Unfortunately you have been misinformed. It is not rice or pasta. It is a style of cooking. (20 years executive chef) (author of 3 published cookbooks)


I wonder whether anyone has heard of wholewheat risotto rice?! Please help! Trying to go healthy.


Is risotto made from Arborio rice considered gluten-free?


In American English, it's usually pronounces rih-SO-toe, with two long Os.

In Italian, the i makes an EE sound, and both ts are pronounced--ree-SOT-toe


how do you pronounce risotto? long or short "o"?


Bite your tongue. LOL..No. You absolutely CANNOT prepare risotto ahead of time. It must always be cooked to order.


Can arborio rice (risotto) be made ahead of time?

And, can it be frozen?

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