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Credit: Photo: John Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr

Few dishes can compare to a creamy risotto. Risotto is a delicious and versatile meal that doesn’t have to be reserved for eating at fancy restaurants. Making it at home means you can customize the flavors and add-ins—and you can control the levels of sodium and fat.

Whether you’re trying to make risotto at home for the first time or want to switch things up with your long-loved recipe, these six steps will help you make risotto that’s delicious—and downright decadent.

Follow a Solid Recipe

Risotto acts as a perfect foundation for mixing in a variety of toppings, veggies, and meats. Start with this basic risotto recipe, and make it your own.

Choose the Right Vessel

Choose a wide pot with a heavy bottom, so the heat is evenly distributed during cooking. With a wider pot, the rice has a chance to evenly cook (read: you don’t have to constantly stir it). Skip the nonstick pan—you won’t need it.

Get Creative with Grains

Risotto generally starts with shorter, starchier grains such as arborio, carnaroli, or bomba rice. As the grains cook and soften, they release their starch and create that signature creaminess. While it’s possible to give the risotto treatment to pasta, these dishes are not true risottos. You can also apply the technique to ancient whole grains like millet, farro, and barley. This is especially useful if you’re concerned about arsenic in your rice.

Layer Your Liquids

Since your cooking liquid flavors the grain, select a full-bodied broth or stock. If you’re not making your own stock, opt for low- or no-sodium varieties. The flavors will concentrate as they cook down—and super-salty stock will make your risotto taste like a salt brick.

For a foolproof ratio, 1 quart of liquid will generally suffice for 1 cup of rice, but if you run out of stock before your grain is tender, you can use water.

A good wine is also a perfect addition to risotto. Whether it’s white, red, or sparkling, add about 1/2 cup as your first addition of liquid (followed by stock for subsequent additions). Adding wine any later in the cooking process could impart bitter notes.

Patience Makes Perfect

It’s the process of adding the liquid that gives risotto its hard-to-make reputation. Allow the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more. The rice will reward this little bit of patience by becoming plump, tender, and creamy.

Add Variety with Toppings

One of the great things about risotto is how easy it is to customize. Starting with a mixture of olive oil and butter creates nice flavor, but you could also try using bacon fat in your risotto.

When the oil shimmers and/or the butter stops foaming (before adding the rice), add a finely chopped small onion or large shallot. Cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes, then add 1 or 2 cloves of minced garlic. Cook other additions like hearty roasted vegetables or proteins separately. If they’re quick-cooking items—like baby spinach, shelled peas, halved tomatoes, chopped herbs, or peeled shrimp—add them during the last few minutes of cooking.

Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino-Romano, and Asiago are all wonderful risotto toppers, but you could also try shredded Gruyere or Gouda, bits of gorgonzola, or feta—or skip it altogether (especially if you’re making a seafood risotto).