Chicken Risotto. Saffron Risotto. Shrimp risotto. What do they all have in common?
Arborio rice that’s been bloomed in fat to let the buttery and wine flavors absorb into al dente rice to create the perfect one pot meal.
Risotto is a perennial favorite because it lends itself to nearly any type of flavor pairing you want to throw in the pot. It loves citrus. It loves meat. It loves vegetables. And it loves to be the star of the show.
The starch from the rice creates a base for its creamy texture, and then it’s typically finished with salty and savory parmesan and rich butter.
In the past, risotto was a little bit of a metaphorically sticky wicket. It wanted – nay – demanded constant attention from the cook. The grains absorb liquid, but it can be a fine line between getting the rice fully hydrated and keeping it from cooking too fast.
But now with millions of cooks keeping a slow cooker or an instant pot on heavy rotation in the kitchen, risotto – can literally – be a hands-off dish.
With a few punches of a button and pantry-friendly ingredients, risotto has transformed from a weekend dish to one that can be served on a hectic weeknight.
Hello, Technology. Let’s be friends!
What Goes Well with Risotto: 13 Juicy Side Dishes
So with the transformation of risotto from a Sunday night dinner to a Wednesday night dish, it’s good to have a few side dishes that can be pulled together quickly to round out the meal.
Here’s the list you don’t want to miss.
1. SEARED SCALLOPS
What could be more delicious with a mounded pile of herby risotto on a plate than scallops?
The slightly sweet and caramelized scallops nestle next to the creamy risotto and create a stunningly delicious and well-rounded flavor profile.
They’re wonderfully browned and full of buttery goodness.
Just pat those babies dry with a paper towel and get them into a hot pan.
And voila! Pure elegance on a plate.
Joanne over at Fifteen Spatulas shows her readers how to make restaurant quality scallops in minutes. Find the recipe here: fifteenspatulas.com
2. SPINACH PESTO WITH ALMONDS AND FETA
Why not serve your favorite butternut squash risotto with a bright and nutty spinach pesto?
Slather that bright green goodness on some crusty bread and call it the perfect meal. The pesto gets whipped up in minutes and brings the garden to the table.
This spread is woth its weight in contented sighs emanating from around the table.
Regina at Leelacious pulls together the incredible flavors of savory baby spinach, creamy almonds, and salty feta. Head over here for Regina’s recipe: leelalicious.com
3. SAUTEED MUSHROOMS
A good ghee, some baby bellas, and fresh thyme creates the perfect sautéed mushroom side dish for any risotto.
The earthy mushrooms soak up the garlic and a kiss of balsamic to create a succulent Risotto side dish that will make everyone fall a little in love.
Alex at The Defined Dish shows her readers how to indulge in this Paleo/Whole 30 side dish that comes together quickly and easily.
Will people be tempted to lick their plate clean? Yes. Yes, they will.
Alex’s recipe awaits you right here: thedefineddish.com
4. GREEN SALAD WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE
Ali over at Gimme Some Oven has the absolute perfect salad to go with any parmesan risotto! It’s fresh, crisp, citrusy and tart.
She calls it an “Everyday Salad,” but we call it pure perfection.
Just pull together your favorite veggies and seeds, along with lemon juice and a touch of garlic.
The recipe calls for an English cucumber, but a couple of fresh little cukes from the garden could be fun, too.
Either way, “hello, risotto, meet your favorite newest plate-mate.”
Check out the recipe here: gimmesomeoven.com
5. PARMESAN GARLIC ROASTED GREEN BEANS
What do you get when you combine farm fresh green beans with salty parmesan and some garlic? Well, you get a stunner of a green bean side dish for risotto that comes together in minutes!
The beans are savory, and have a kick of heat from red pepper flakes.
And they would pair amazingly well with a chicken risotto.
If you’re looking for a recipe that will give you the coveted crisp/tender green bean texture, these veggies are for you.
But, why take our word for it? Divas Can Cook shares the full recipe right here:
6. FRESH PEA AND MINT SOUP
Sure, you may see peas in risotto, but how perfect is it to serve a fresh, vibrant pea and mint soup along with the risotto of your choice?
It’s light. It’s bright. And it hits all the right flavor notes to land itself a well-earned spot on the table next to that amazing risotto.
Follow along with Tarla Dalal on YouTube to learn the secrets of this simple – and unbelievably satisfying – classic soup.
7. ASPARAGUS WITH POACHED EGGS
To round out the perfect risotto, why not plate it next to the world’s most perfectly poached egg on a bed of crisp and tender asparagus spears with parmesan and prosciutto?
It’s salty and satisfying. And it’s beautiful.
A veritable riot of color on the plate that makes everyone “ooh” and “aah” like they’re at the Key West Sunset Celebration where everyone gathers on the beach to clap as the sun descends over the ocean.
Yes. This side dish is just that good.
Let Lisa over at Downshiftology explain how to pull it together: downshiftology.com
8. CAPRESE SALAD
The combination of flavors in this salad epitomize the word “classic.”
Sweet tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, and lightly anise-flavored basil, all tied together with a vinaigrette and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
This bright and fresh, sweet and earthy little salad is what to eat with risotto – and any version of it you can dream up.
Nagi at Recipe Tin Eats has all the steps down pat to help you make an amazing caprese.
She also uses little balls of fresh mozzarella and grape tomatoes, instead of the traditional, large flat slices – making for nice little bites that mimic the smaller plump grains of the risotto.
Bonus: There’s also a gorgeous taste-testing dog named Dozer who adorably photobombs recipe photos. Check them out at: recipetineats.com
9. ROASTED GREEN VEGGIES
If one green veggie a meal is delicious and good for you, how much better is a bevy of them?
What about the amazingly flavorful combination of Brussels sprouts, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, fennel and onion all wrapped in a balsamic dressing?
You want this next to your favorite seafood risotto, ASAP.
Over at Give It Some Thyme, Kim walks you through putting this all together. Oh, and did we mention there’s herbs, parmesan, and nuts?
Check out the recipe here: giveitsomethyme.com
10. KNEADED KALE SALAD
Kale is everywhere, and for good reason. It’s hearty and savory, bright and sumptuous.
Even more so when it’s kneaded with lemon dressing and tossed with parmesan and almonds.
This preparation pairs perfectly with a creamy shrimp risotto, making the plate a vibrant canvas of flavor and color.
Head over to The Garlic Diaries and let Annie talk you through the simple method for this addictive salad: thegarlicdiaries.com
11. HOMEMADE SAUSAGE PATTIES
Sure, you can buy sweet Italian sausage to serve as a little meat treat next to your favorite vegetable risotto, but making it from scratch is so much more satisfying!
This sausage is made by combining two types of meat and mixing them with tart red wine vinegar and loads of fresh herbs and garlic.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s perfectly right.
Head on over to Food Smart Mom and learn how simple it is to make your own Italian sausage patties. You’ll be happy you did: foodsmartmom.com
12. MARINATED OLIVES
There are olive bars in grocery stores. But, then there are the marinated olives handmade in your own kitchen – and never the twain shall meet.
Homemade marinated olives are loaded with citrus flavor, silky olive oil, and pungent garlic, not to mention fresh herbs and spices.
How can something that comes in a plastic container compare to that aroma?
Serve these briny treats next to a saffron risotto and watch your plate swoon.
Check out Amanda’s recipe at The Chunky Chef here: thechunkychef.com
13. SAUTEED SPICY SPINACH
Sautéed spinach is an amazingly versatile side dish.
How spicy do you like it? How garlicy? Do you want it bathed in citrus, or peppered with Himalayan sea salt?
It’s all up to you.
But, first things first – get that spinach into a pan with some good olive oil and be prepared for a delightful option for what goes with risotto, including vegetable or meat risotto.
Head over to Feasting Not Fasting for a little tutorial from Christy on how to make this colorful and savory addition to any plate. feastingnotfasting.com
What to Serve with Risotto and Beyond
Here’s a little history on the beloved risotto dish and some times when it comes to presentation and serving your sides.
RISOTTO IN ITALY: A WELL-CULTIVATED LOVE STORY
Arborio is a small, short-grained rice that loves the Mediterranean climate. The humidity, flat space, and abundance of water creates the perfect environment for the rice to bountifully grow.
The Moors brought the rice to Italy around the 13th century, and from then on it thrived in the Po Valley in the north.
You would have good reason to consider risotto the creamy cousin of paella. Milan had been under Spanish rule for nearly 200 years, and – along with an affinity for slow cooking rice – the two countries shared a passion for saffron.
In Milan, the famous “Risotto alla Milanese” gets its gorgeously hued color from the red little threads of the saffron crocus, much like paella.
The first mention of risotto popped up in the 1800s, and the basic ingredients are the same as they are today. Arborio, fat, broth or water and wine.
It wasn’t until 1929 when the chef Felice Lurashi, of Milan, added cheese to the final dish – and we should thank him every day for that culinary invention.
We might have to think about what goes well with risotto when we make it, but who can imagine risotto without the cheese?
Now, of course we have a larger group of new ingredients that we associate with the famously short-grained rice.
Risottos with pumpkin, shallots, lemons, chicken, shrimp (grilled or sauteed), squid ink, bone broths, truffles, lobster, veal, and asparagus are all on restaurant menus around the world today.
EAT WITH YOUR EYES WHEN PAIRING SIDES
We covered a lot of side dishes that pair perfectly with risotto, but it’s fun to play with the plating of the rice dish, too.
For instance, a textural contrast like toasted pine nuts or walnuts are a playful addition to the meal.
And it’s always fun to telegraph what’s in the risotto using garnishes. If there’s lemon in the risotto, top it with sunny lemon wedges.
Brightly steamed asparagus tips to top an asparagus risotto is beautiful – and don’t forget the shaved parmesan! It’s both visually appealing and lightly melts on top of the hot rice.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING WITH SIDE DISHES
Finally, when it comes to risotto, timing between your main and your side dishes is more crucial than you might think.
You’ll want to make sure to have your sides ready to go by the time you’re stirring in that last bit of butter and cheese.
Risotto will exuberantly keep expanding when cooked, and you want everything ready to be plated by the time you triumphantly bring the beautiful and creamy risotto to the table.
No less an expert than Lidia Bastianich describes it like this: “My mother used to say that if you don’t come for dinner on time, the risotto will meet you at the door, because…it expands so much. “
Risotto is a dish that everyone should have in their repertoire because of its versatility, inexpensive ingredients, flavor, and overall plate appeal.
So, pile the plate high with your favorite rendition and some of the gorgeous ideas for what to serve with risotto above, and let’s make a meal!
What to Serve with Risotto
- Seared Scallops
- Spinach Pesto
- Sauteed Mushrooms
- Green Salad
- Roasted Green Beans
- Mint Soup
- Caprese Salad
- Roasted Veggies
- Kale Salad
- Sausage Patties
- Marinated Olives
- Spicy Spinach
- Choose your desired Risotto side dish recipe.
- Gather and organize needed ingredients.
- Create a tasty Risotto side to complete your meal!