Risotto is an Italian rice dish, most popular in northern Italy, made with a soft short-grained rice like Arborio rice. This rice has a very high starch content, making for a thick and creamy texture in the finished product. You cannot make a successful risotto using long-grained rice, however hard you try.
Traditionally, risotto is the name given to all recipes that use rice as the main component and are served as first dish in a traditional Italian lunch or dinner as usually pasta also is. When rice arrived in Italy six centuries ago from the Far East, it found an ideal place for cultivation in the Po river plain and during the Renaissance and gradually replaced rye, barley and millet for its ease of preparation and nutritious power. Its diffusion across the country gave rise to hundreds of recipes containing components of different local cultures. But the founder of all risotti is the Milan risotto, also called saffron risotto.
First the rice is sauteed in olive oil or butter to begin the cooking process, then liquid (stock and/or white wine) is added slowly, stirring continuously. The stirring helps to break down the grains and release more starch. Flavourings can be added either at the start (onions, chopped chicken, etc.) or towards the end (parmasen or grated cheese, spinach etc) depending on how long they need to cook. The actual rice will be cooked in about twenty minutes, making this a fairly quick if labour-intensive dish. Grated or ground Parmesan cheese is almost always sprinkled on top. It can be eaten as is, but risotto is generally enjoyed with one or two ingredients added. In Italy, risotto is, like pasta, usually served as first course, the second course being meat or fish.