Pesto Risotto

I love pesto and enjoy making various different kinds of pesto. Last week, I used a fennel top to make the pesto for our fennel pizza. I’ve also done kale pesto, carrot-top pesto, and sage pesto; basically I keep everything the same but change the herbs. (I also use walnuts and Romano cheese as economical alternatives to pine nuts and Parmesan). Still, basil pesto holds a special place in my heart.

That’s why for this week, I wanted to take those flavors and showcase them in a different way. Pesto really is all about the complementary and contrasting flavors and textures. The nuttiness of the cheese, the earthy bitterness of the basil, the spicy garlic cutting through the rich oil (and staying on your breath for what might feel like a week!). It is all these flavors together that make this smooth yet crunchy salty spread a treat.

We’ve also been making risotto a lot lately—that is, twice in the last month. For some reason when I saw the bright, fresh basil at the market, the idea hit me. This is not simply plain risotto with pesto added. It is pesto, deconstructed and put back together in risotto form. The execution was fairly simple, and it yielded a beautiful, delicious dish that we easily paired with MAKER? Cabernet Sauvignon. Here’s how we did it:

Pesto Risotto (1.5 hours, serves 4)

2 bulbs garlic
¼ onion
¼ cup olive oil
550 ml white wine (~3/4 bottle)
1 cup whole basil
1 lbs Arborio rice
4 cups water
2 Tbsp pine nuts
6 oz Romano cheese
4 oz Jarlsberg cheese

Cut two bulbs of garlic and a quarter of an onion (large dice). Save about a third of the garlic for later. Before cooking anything, prepare the basil. We used a cup packed down. Reserve several of the budding tops to use as a garnish; chop the rest. Sauté the onion and garlic on medium-low heat until they start to turn translucent, no brown flecks! Add the chopped basil and a quarter cup of white wine (Three Wishes from Whole Foods is hard to turn down at $3.00 a bottle, but I wouldn’t recommend drinking it). Once this reduces a little, add the risotto.

I like to let the risotto soak up most of the first liquid before adding more. This is really the trick to risotto as it cooks: only add a cup of liquid at a time. Let most of it evaporate before adding more. My MO is to add half the wine, then 2 cups of water, then the rest of the wine. I add as much water as I need to finish cooking the rice, which for a pound is usually about two more cups. I wouldn’t recommend using any kind of stock in this recipe since it might overwhelm the somewhat delicate flavor of the basil. I add the cheese after the first water, this way it melts in evenly. Save 2 oz or so of the Romano for garnish.


Risotto must be stirred constantly so that it doesn’t dry out and burn on the bottom. It’s really not too much work though, just put on some music and take turns with a cooking partner. Risotto is also very delicate and can easily be over cooked. I would err on the side of undercooking as it will continue to soften and loose moisture as it cools.

Top each bowl with some of the Romano, garlic, pine nuts and one or two basil tops. Drizzle with olive oil.