The world has northern Italy to thank for its love affair with risotto. A traditional Italian meal serves risotto as the first course. American cuisine has expanded risotto into side dishes, main dishes as well as a first-course serving.
Risotto is actually a technique, not just one dish, used to cook different types of short grain rice very slowly in some type of broth. Although the method to cook risotto correctly is very specific, the sky's the limit when adding different ingredients.
Basic ingredients for traditional risotto include a fat, like olive oil or butter, mirepoix (a dice of carrots, celery and onions), rice, hot stock and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. You can add any number of favorite vegetables to risotto.
Add tasty tomato
Seeded and quartered plum tomatoes are favorite vegetables in Italian food for a good reason. Their flavor combines well with all types of foods, including risotto, and they cook down nicely to make sauces. The fact that tomatoes come in a rainbow of colors is another culinary plus.
Combine colorful squash
Because this dish originated in Italy, adding Italian zucchini along with other herbs like oregano and basil always make a delicious combination. Just don't stop with zucchini. Try a mix of colorful yellow summer or butternut squash for other unique flavors.
Go wild with mushrooms
Fans of this musky, versatile fungus should try a wild mushroom risotto using reconstituted porcini mushrooms and your favorite fresh mushroom variety. Make your risotto the traditional way, and then add the mushrooms into the mirepoix and saute. Add even more mushroom flavor by replacing part of the hot stock with the reconstituted mushroom liquid.
Use green vegetables
When spring vegetables begin to appear on grocery shelves, use green vegetables in your risotto. Vegetables that cook quickly and that bring their own flavor and nutritional profile to risotto are asparagus, peas and spinach.
Once you have mastered the basic risotto-making technique, you can begin to add your favorite vegetables and see what happens. Often the best vegetable combinations for risotto are discovered through trial and error.