What Is Parmesan Risotto?

C. Mitchell

Parmesan risotto, or risotto Parmigiano in Italian, is a creamy rice dish made with Parmesan cheese. It is perhaps the most classic risotto preparation, and is often used as a base for more complex flavors or ingredients. Making Parmesan risotto is not usually difficult, though it can be time-consuming. The rice’s moisture must be carefully monitored, and the cheese must be stirred into the sauce until just melted.

Grated Parmesan cheese is often added to risotto.
Grated Parmesan cheese is often added to risotto.

Risotto is a style of serving rice famously popular in Italian cuisine. Restaurants and cooks in other parts of Europe and North America often mistakenly classify risotto as a pasta. It is prepared in many of the ways that a pasta would be, and when properly done, it has a rich, pasta-like taste. Risotto is actually made from rice, however.

Parmesan risotto is often garnished with herbs and cooked vegetables.
Parmesan risotto is often garnished with herbs and cooked vegetables.

There are a few types of rice that will work for risotto, but Arborio and vialone are the most common. Both of these are short-grained rice varieties that absorb moisture well. Long grain rice does not usually work for risotto.

Parmesan cheese is an ingredient in almost every sort of risotto dish. In some sense, then, nearly every risotto could be considered a “Parmesan risotto.” Most of the time, however, the dish is characterized by its main, or most flavorful, ingredient. A risotto that is specifically labeled “Parmesan risotto” is likely to be a very basic preparation.

Basic does not necessarily mean uninteresting, however. Even the simplest risotto dishes are rich and flavorful. This is perhaps not surprising, considering that the staple ingredients are butter, white wine, cream, and piles of shredded Parmesan cheese.

The best Parmesan risottos are served immediately after cooking, just after the cheese has begun to melt. Rice grains should be firm to the bite, but not tough, and completely covered in the sauce. Most sauces have a bit of salt or spice to counter the richness of the cheese-infused cream. Additional grated cheese is usually served on top of the served dish, as a garnish.

Cooking with Parmesan often requires some attentiveness to the cheese’s melting speed. Parmesan is a dry cheese that takes longer than many softer cheeses to melt, particularly if it is coarsely grated. The texture and flavor of the risotto cream sauce is usually best just as the cheese begins to blend.

Parmesan risotto is often garnished with smoked meats, roasted vegetables, or chopped herbs. Almost anything can be added to the dish, as its flavors are mild and neutral enough to complement a wide array of foods. It is also easy to create variations by adding additions or modifications to the sauce. Adding different cheeses can create a three- or four-cheese risotto, for instance, just as adding tomato puree can create a festive, red-colored tomato risotto.

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