top photo of carrot risotto

My brother hasn’t been in the car with us twenty minutes before I hear him say something in passing about a spring pea risotto he’s tried the week before, and before I can stop myself I’m exclaiming, “Risotto! I want to make risotto! How do you do it? Was it hard?”

Then, to Tim, “Remember our carrot risotto in California?”

photo of carrots

That risotto we’d had at La Bicyclette, the highlight of our meal and maybe our entire trip, was the kind of entrée you never forget, so even though I ask him, I know Tim knows it, too: a carrot risotto so creamy and buttery, so cheesy and comforting, so beautifully bright orange the way things hardly ever naturally are, that I heard at least three other bloggers say they would tackle this recipe when they got home.

Of course, I wasn’t one of those bloggers saying I’d make it later, just so we’re clear. I responded by saying how much I liked it, how warm and savory and amazing it was, but I didn’t dream of going home and trying it myself because, between us, risotto scares me. In my mind, risotto is great chefs and top restaurants and five-star reviews. It’s talent and skill and precision. There was a time, once, when I approached it, but the results were hard and bland and crunched when you took a spoonful, so Saturday, when we’re driving down the highway and I say, “I want to make risotto!” to my husband and my brother in the car, I don’t actually mean I want to make risotto. I mean that I want to eat risotto! and if it’s the La Bicyclette kind, preferably by the mixing bowl!

Because here’s the thing: risotto is hard. Risotto is fussy. Risotto isn’t something I can do.

But then my brother comes to town.

chopped onions and shredded carrots

You know, when it comes to the kitchen, the idea of cooking with other people, any people, may seem charming at first, but the truth is that not all cooks make good companions. You don’t have to share your kitchen many times before you see this is true.

There are cooks who will come into your home and take over, for example, leaving you stressed out and insecure even as they rearrange your spice cabinet. There are cooks who will second-guess you, who will comment on the weird way you hold the frosting bag while they take it out of your hands.

But then on the other hand, there are cooks like my brother, the kind who already know you so well that they are easy partners whatever the project. They come to visit and tell you about a risotto they made and make it seem so approachable and possible that before you know it, it’s Monday afternoon and you’re standing with them over arborio rice cooking on your kitchen stove, learning as you watch them, gaining confidence as you work together. These cooks aren’t common, but when you’re blessed to find them, give thanks—these are the people you want to cook with.

adam holding carrot risotto

And so it is that Adam and I are making risotto together, frozen stock thawing on the stove, my hands pressing buttons on the food processor to shred carrots, his hands chopping parsley on the cutting board. It’s not night yet, but the sky is darkening as storm clouds gather overhead, and the kitchen seems smaller and smaller as it grows more dim, so he flips on the overhead light above the stove; I close the blinds in the living room. He stirs the risotto, moving a long wooden spoon steadily through the rice and wine and carrots; I add stock, half cup by half cup, letting it soak in and be absorbed and change the rice to soft and plump and fragrant.

The two of us, who have been cooking together for as long as we’ve been cooking, work side by side in the entire process, like four hands in the same singular machine, a product of lifetimes of shared experience and kitchens and food. Even as it seems strange to be doing it now in Nashville, in my home, the one I share with Tim that’s eight hours away from where Adam and I spent most of our lives, it also seems familiar, just like Sunday afternoons making pizza in his Chicago apartment or weeknights baking cookies at Mom and Dad’s.

carrot risotto

Today, while we scoop ladles of risotto into bowls and sprinkle them with parsley and chopped carrots and Pecorino, I think how this person standing next to me has known me all his life and most of mine and how he’s been the first friend I talk to about decisions and passions and, two years ago, Tim.

I think how nice it is to cook with him because he knows me, so I can say to him, keep your eye on this and know he will; I can trust him to anticipate the next step, to catch something I miss; I can go to turn the pepper grinder just before we finish the risotto and, when it releases half a jar of whole peppercorns instead of a light sprinkling of ground pepper, I can count on him to laugh with me even while we have to laboriously pick peppercorn after peppercorn out of the simmering food.

After the last bit of stock has been worked into the pot, we take our bowls of risotto to the brown leather sofa and plop down, side by side, putting our feet up and flipping through movie trailers on Apple TV, and I feel so thankful for this brother who cooks with me, even as I feel thankful for the thing we’ve cooked, the thing I feared, the thing we eat spoonful after spoonful on the couch: risotto.






Carrot Risotto
Adapted from Sunset Magazine
Serves 3 to 4

So I think the reason everybody says they hate making risotto, and thus the reason it feels so intimidating for most people, all goes back to the stirring. Making risotto requires a lot of stirring. Like 20 minutes straight of it. That’s why this is a great recipe to make WITH friends or family, divvying up stirring duties amongst you.

But, one more note: one bite into this risotto (just like California’s, no kidding!), you’ll know it was worth the effort.

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons butter, divided
2.5 cups shredded carrots (for us, this was about 10 peeled carrots chopped in a food processor)
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
5 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup minced onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly shredded Pecorino cheese, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh thyme
Pepper and more salt, to taste

Directions:
CARAMELIZE THE CARROTS
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add carrots and stir with a wooden spoon until well coated. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon honey. Cover and cook for five minutes, until the carrots are tender. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown, five to ten minutes more. Then, reserve half the carrots, and puree the other half with 3/4 cup hot water in a food processor.

SIMMER BROTH
Bring chicken broth to a simmer and keep it at a simmer, covered, over low heat.

COOK RICE, ETC
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in the same (unwashed) pot that you caramelized the carrots in. Add the minced onion and cook until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add rice, stirring with a wooden spoon just long enough to coat rice with oil, maybe a minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until wine evaporates. Add carrot purée and cook, stirring, until mixture no longer looks soupy.

ADD BROTH
Add the simmering broth in 1/2-cup increments: add 1/2 cup of broth, stir into risotto for a while until the rice absorbs most of the liquid, repeat. Keep doing this, stirring often, for about 20 minutes, until rice is al dente. You’ll have at least a cup of broth still in the pot.

ADD EVERYTHING ELSE
Fold in the reserved carrots, saving a couple teaspoons to use as garnish. Add ricotta, Pecorino, parsley and thyme. Add some of the remaining broth, 1/4 cup at a time, to loosen up the risotto, adding up to another cup of broth total. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

SERVE
Sprinkle each bowl of risotto with some of the remaining carrots, parsley and Pecorino. Enjoy!

Cooksnaps
Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 43 Comments

  1. Jacqui

    I’m afraid of risotto, too. I’m actually not a huge fan of the stuff. I’ve had it at fancy Italian restaurants, where I figure they must know what they’re doing, and still don’t like it. But yours looks so comforting and happy (also, Shanna, these photos are so good!), and I love that you cooked it with your brother. Have a great weekend!

    1. Shannalee

      You’re nice. And I wish you could have seen me and Adam, standing under the hood of the front porch, his hands holding our giant bamboo cutting board topped with risotto, my hands aiming the camera right at it, all in an effort to get whatever light was left. There’s a real intimacy in being able to do that, I think, in addition to being able to cook with someone—an intimacy I know you and Murdo understand well when I’ve heard you talk about standing up on a chair at the table to get a shot.

      1. sandra evans

        Hi, This is so funny. I was just at bicyclette and thought the carrot risotto was amazing and was looking for a recipe and you were mentioning it was the highlight of your trip. Just went there last weekend and it lived up to expectations. Sandra

  2. krista.

    This looks so tasty! I love carrots. If you can get hold of it, there’s an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown discusses a method of making risotto that involves less stirring. I tried it last time I made risotto, and I had no extra sticking and no burning. It might be worth checking out if you enjoy the end result but avoid making risotto because of the effort (which I very much understand because OMG the Stirring. Never. Ends. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. MaryAnn

    I love that you were able to have a visit with your brother & even more I love that you have this special closeness. I have that same sort of relationship with my sister. It’s a beautiful thing, a gift from God.
    And I don’t think I’ve had risotto. But now I want it :-)

    1. Shannalee

      I always wanted a sister! There’s something especially special about sisters, I think. BUT that said, my brother has been all the blessings of siblings wrapped into one, and you’re right: a true gift from God.

  4. Kasey

    You’re very right – not everyone makes a good companion in the kitchen, and your choice of partner can definitely make the difference between a relaxing and stressed out night. I actually love making risotto! It’s all about stirring, which, compulsive stirrer that I am, usually means I can whip up a pretty good batch of risotto. I adore the color, and can only imagine how good this tastes with the carrots! Your relationship with your brother sounds like the kind of relationship I wish I had with my brother, if I had one :)

  5. Nicole @Eat This Poem

    As it turns out, risotto is probably my favorite thing in the world to make. I’m not sure I can even explain why, it’s just such a comforting, satisfying meal. It used to intimidate me, too, but one thing I love about risotto is the more you make it, the more it becomes effortless. You just know when it’s done, or when it needs more stock, and you can tell just by looking at it if the rice is perfectly suspended in its creamy sauce or needs a bit more attention. Lovely post today!

  6. Paula- bell'alimento

    Brava! I adore making risotto for the reason that most people don’t, I enjoy the stirring, it’s therapeutic for me … and I’ve yet to have made THE carrot risotto from our trip. I’ve decided to wait until my carrots from my garden are ready and then I will be too! xoxo

  7. Kelley

    We are on the same cooking track! I made my first risotto last week, after years of assuming it was clearly beyond me. Our recipe had spinach, asparagus and peas. I thawed homemade stock, too. So pleasant to cook and so amazing to eat! Yay for both of us. :)

    1. Shannalee

      Kelley, my long-lost friend, I so enjoy the idea of us both trying risotto, from different states and different kitchens, at around the same time. And yours had peas! I am still after one like that.

  8. Helene

    That is so strange, we had plain arborio rice and carrots tonight and I told myself I needed to try risotto again… it’s meant to be, I must make your carrot risotto (giving myself a reasonable 2 week window!) I don’t know that I’ll be able to find a good cooking companion though… (it also makes me wonder which kind of cooking companion I am…?) I want a brother to cook with too!! :-( Thanks for this post, it was a wonderful read.

    1. Shannalee

      Ha, Helene, I think the very fact that you’d ask that question reveals a lot about what kind of cook you are (a good one!). And really, what makes a good companion is mostly about the intimacy you already share with them—so I say find a close friend you trust and try it. Thanks for your comment!

  9. jessiev

    i love the porch shot. i can’t even tell you that my whole family knows to wait to eat until the photo has been taken in the best light possible! :) and carrots, oh carrots. i don’t like stirring. but i think i will make this, and think of you and your brother, and miss my brother who is halfway across the country, but we DO love to cook together. life is good!

  10. Nancy

    Shanna, your writing is pure poetry – I felt like I was right there with you and your brother, making this fabulous risotto! I have two boxes of Arborio rice in my cupboard and have always been too intimidated to attempt it but you’ve inspired me with this post.

  11. Amy

    I am so blessed that my best friend and I are perfect cooking partners – she’s messy and cooks intuitively, while I am a clean-up-as-you-go kinda gal who is creative within reason. In the cooling days of winter, this carrot risotto will be a welcome visitor in my kitchen, thanks for sharing :)

  12. Sarah Rose

    I just love your writing…. :) My brother is a chef at Wegmans and is talented and patient and fun to be around… I hope to cook with him sometime soon, too — and yet I know what you mean about choosing who to try to cook with! So glad your risotto was a success, and thanks for another great recipe to try (for when I am brave).

  13. Kendra

    This is precious. One of my favorite posts of yours by far. Enhanced, of course, by the few minutes I got to spend with you and Adam. Reminds me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago about how risotto is like motherhood. Difficult, scary, better with a partner. Reading this and thinking of the two of you has made me quite happy.

  14. sarah

    I love this post. I got teary-eyed; I could just feel the depth of your relationship and how comfortable you are together. So beautiful.

    And this meal looks incredible. I love fancy risotto. ;)

  15. Erin

    Risotto used to intimidate me too. I watched demonstrations on food network over and over again until I finally tried it, and now I’m one of those people who finds making risotto relaxing! haha
    Also I love your thoughts about kitchen partners…so true! There are definitely people I enjoy having in my kitchen and other people that I just need to get out!

  16. Adrianna

    Shannalee,

    I love your blog and your food and how whenever I think about some food I am tempted to try out in the kitchen, it just magically appears on one of my favorite blogs… Just a couple of days ago, I was watching a culinary show with risotto as the main hero in one of the episodes and all the time I kept thinking that I really don’t like risotto and have never seen one that I found appetizing (bland, white risotto only takes me back to my childhood days and a rice porridge my Mom would make for me when I was sick…:) And I kept thinking that… until I saw this post and your pictures. The next day, I was standing in my kitchen and though I didn’t have my favorite kitchen companion, the risotto turned out pretty well (I used Japanese rice – good substitute for arborio rice that is little hard to get in Japan). Making carrot puree, stirring the rice, waiting and – above all – looking at the beautiful color of the risotto made me feel calm and happy and grateful. Which is exactly how your posts make me feel.

    1. Shannalee

      Adrianna, I can’t decide which I love more: knowing that you found a substitute for risotto in Japanese rice and it still worked well, or knowing that you tried risotto, like I did, when you first felt you couldn’t. Lovely comment—thanks for leaving it!

  17. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes

    I feel risotto making is so comforting, and the possibilities are endless. Such a nice story of cooking with your brother, a bond you´ll share forever. How great.
    This risotto has a gorgeous color and the texture, extra creamy and with caramelized carrots. How clever to shred them and puree them. Great recipe

  18. Michele

    This was so touching. It brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could experience that and actually reading this made me feel like I was in the kitchen with you. Beautifully written and a beautiful dish.

  19. Ricki

    You know, I was one of those bloggers who vowed to tackle this at home, but still haven’t gotten to it! Risotto doesn’t particularly scare me–but one must devote an entire afternoon to the project in order to make it properly (not sure how many rounds of broth/stirring/absorbing into rice you went through, but I bet it was substantial!). Your final product looks wonderful, though, creamy and colorful and very reminiscent of that dish we had at La Bicylette!

  20. Helene

    Hi Shanna, I just wanted to share the fact that my 14 month old gobbled up this risotto like no tomorrow, to the very last grain of rice on his high chair table!! I adapted the recipe putting chicken stock with some lemon juice in it instead of the white wine. It worked out very well, still had that tanginess the wine adds.

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