This easy Lemon Risotto is a dish your whole family will love! Marrying the bright flavors of fresh lemon juice and zest with savory garlic and parmesan, it makes the perfect side dish, but can also easily be turned into a full meal with the addition of your favorite protein.
I often think of risotto as that dependable friend who's always there when I need them. They're always easy to be around, but also constantly full of fun surprises. I'm just plain always happy to see them.
Any time I can't decide what to make for dinner, I think about what flavors I'm in the mood for and then turn them into a risotto! Welcome back to my dinner table, dear friend.
Lots of people think risottos are difficult to make and are a labor of love, but they're actually quite easy and are so incredibly versatile in terms of flavors and add-ins.
But recently, I was in the mood for a simpler risotto. I was craving lemon and knew risotto would be the perfect vehicle to carry the bright zesty spring and summer flavor.
❓ What is risotto?
Risotto is a Northern Italian rice dish typically made with arborio rice and cooked with broth or stock until creamy.
It's usually served as a main dish, side dish, or appetizer and though most traditional risotto recipes include butter, white wine, and parmesan cheese, anything can be added from vegetables to proteins to cheeses to seasonings. Mushroom risotto is one of the most popular varieties in the U.S.
In America, home cooks typically use arborio rice (found with the other rice in your grocery store) for risotto, but other varieties of short grain rice like Carnaroli, Maratelli, Vialone Nano, Balso, Carnaroli, and more can be used (source).
You can make risotto-like dishes with other long grain rice like Jasmine rice and even grains like farro, barley, and quinoa, but they won't typically be as creamy as short grain rice risotto.
❤️ Why you'll love this recipe
This risotto couldn't be easier to make and is a good "starter" risotto for anyone nervous about cooking it.
It's a standard recipe that mostly just involves all the add-ins at the end.
It's also an incredibly versatile dish. You can serve it as an easy side dish to so many entrees or you can add protein or vegetables in it to make it a complete meal on its own!
You don't need anything complicated to make this lemon risotto. Here's everything required (but be sure to view the recipe card at the bottom of this post to see ingredient amounts and full recipe instructions):
- Low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- Unsalted butter, divided
- Chopped onion
- Garlic (from about 3 cloves)
- Arborio rice
- Dry white wine: like pinot grigio
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Fresh lemon zest
- Fresh lemon juice
- Minced parsley
- Salt & pepper
🍋 How to make lemon risotto
If this is your first time making risotto, welcome! Your life is about to be changed and you're going to want to make it all the time.
This is such an easy recipe and once you learn how to make it, you'll see that your options are endless for creating meals out of it.
To start, pour chicken or vegetable broth into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Lower heat and keep broth warm.
I like to have this on the back-burner warming while I start on the actual rice.
In a separate larger saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook about 5 minutes until starting to soften.
Add garlic and cook for another minute, until fragrant.
Add the arborio rice to the saucepan and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring a bit, until it’s translucent around the edges.
Pour wine into saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon until it's absorbed, about 2 minutes.
If you don't have any wine or prefer not to include it, you can skip right to the next step. The wine does add a nice extra burst of bright acidity to the risotto, but it's not totally necessary. You'll get plenty of brightness from the lemon juice and zest!
Now for the addition of the broth and the part that makes a lot of people fearful of risotto.
Add 1 cup of the warmed broth to the rice. Stir and let the rice absorb the chicken stock or vegetable stock. Once the broth is absorbed, continue to add more, a cup at a time, stirring and letting it absorb before adding more.
The thing is, contrary to popular belief, you don't have to stand over your stove and stir non-stop. Just be sure to stir occasionally to make sure rice doesn't start sticking to the bottom of your saucepan. I promise, it's easy!
You'll want to continue with the rest of the broth, or until the rice is al dente, which means it's nice and tender, but still firm (I usually use all 5 cups of stock).
This is your classic risotto with no add-ins.
Of course, we want to turn this into lemon risotto!
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in remaining Tbsp butter, parmesan cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper.
Stir everything together to combine and serve risotto in bowls topped with additional cheese, lemon zest, and parsley.
This recipe is so basic and easy, but it's packed with so much brightness and flavor! It has the most perfectly creamy texture and the rice is very tender and chewy.
Of course, lemon reminds me of spring and summer, but this is the kind of dish you can make any time of year, whenever you need a bit of sunshine in your life.
Honestly, I could eat this lemon risotto as a main course (if you make it with vegetable broth and omit the parmesan, it can be vegetarian). But it's also the perfect side dish to so many entrees and would be a great addition to a dinner party.
If you love lemon dishes as much as I do, try this delicious Greek lemon chicken soup!
🎉 Variations on recipe
Though this lemon risotto is perfect as is, it's also a sort of blank canvas that you can easily make your own. Here are some ideas for what you can add to it:
- Chicken: Grilled, sautéed, or roast chicken is the perfect way to add protein to the dish.
- Shrimp: Shrimp and lemon go perfectly together and it would make for a delightful pescatarian risotto.
- Tofu or tempeh: To keep this dish a vegetarian option, but still add some protein.
- Vegetables: Asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, baby spinach, and spring peas are all popular additions to risotto.
- Sun-dried tomatoes, olives, or capers: If you want to add a little extra umami.
- Additional cheese: In addition to the parmesan or instead of the parmesan, you can add goat cheese, feta, cheddar cheese, gouda, or the cheese of your choice.
- Pine nuts or walnuts
- Additional fresh herbs: Add fresh thyme, basil, rosemary, or whatever your favorites are.
🍽️ What to serve with
If you choose to serve this simple lemon risotto as a side dish, here are some great entrees it would go well with:
- Panko Crusted Chicken
- Rosemary Steak
- Garlic Chicken Wings
- Spinach and Brie-Stuffed Chicken
- Chipotle Steak and Peach Kabobs
- Creamy Grapefruit Salmon
- Brie-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs
- Caesar Salad with Grilled Citrus Salmon
- Lemon Roasted Chicken (from Spend with Pennies)
⏲️ How to store leftovers
You can easily store any risotto leftovers in an airtight container in your fridge.
When stored properly, it should keep fresh for 3-5 days.
You may want to add a little additional broth to the risotto when reheating.
🔪 Tips and tricks
Like I've mentioned many times, risotto is so easy to make! But I do have some tips to share to ensure your risotto is the creamiest and most delicious it can be:
- Don't rinse rice: You never want to rinse the starch off arborio rice as it will prevent your risotto from bring creamy. The high starch content is a positive here!
- Keep stock warm: All of my risotto recipes call for the stock to be heated in a saucepan before using in the risotto. If you add cold stock as you're cooking, the rice will be shocked by it and won't cook evenly. Make sure you keep your stock over low heat throughout the cooking process.
- Stir, but not too much: Lots of people are under the assumption risotto has to be stirred non-stop. But stirring it too much will actually allow too much air into it, which could give it a glue-like texture. So, while you definitely want to stir it so it doesn't stick to the pan and so you agitate it, don't stir it too much!
- Add stock slowly: You might be tempted to just add all the stock at once and let it absorb. But it's very important that you add no more than a cup at a time and wait for it to absorb before adding more.
The more you make risotto, the easier it gets... Until you can't imagine life without it!
🍚 More risotto recipes
Once you learn how to make risotto, I promise you'll want to make it all the time! I'm at the point where I can practically make it with my eyes closed and I constantly have ideas for new varieties. Here are some of my favorite risotto recipes:
- Garlic Parmesan Risotto
- Tomato and Sausage Risotto
- Blue Cheese Risotto with Kale
- Chicken Parmesan Risotto
- Jalapeño Cheddar Risotto
- Red Wine Risotto
- Breakfast Risotto
- BLT Risotto
- Apple and Walnut Risotto
- Butternut Squash Risotto (from Love and Lemons)
I hope you'll take the time to make this deliciously creamy lemon risotto and share with me below how you make it your own.
It's one of my all-time favorite dishes and the best way to add extra sunshine into your day.
And don't forget, with leftover risotto, you can always make arancini!
- 5 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1 cup chopped onion (from about 1 small onion)
- 1 Tbsp garlic (from about 3 cloves)
- 1 ½ cups arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine (like pinot grigio)*
- ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon zest, plus more for topping
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp minced parsley, plus more for topping
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp salt
- Pour chicken or vegetable broth into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Lower heat and keep broth warm.
- In a separate larger saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook about 5 minutes until starting to soften. Add garlic and cook for another minute, until fragrant.
- Add arborio rice to the saucepan and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring a bit, until it’s translucent around the edges.
- Pour wine into saucepan and cook, stirring until it's absorbed, about 2 minutes.
- Add 1 cup of the warmed broth to the rice. Stir and let the rice absorb the stock. Once the broth is absorbed, continue to add more, a cup at a time, stirring and letting it absorb before adding more. You don't have to stir non-stop, but stir occasionally to make sure rice doesn't start sticking to the bottom of your saucepan. Continue with the rest of the broth, or until the rice is nice and tender, but still firm (I usually use all 5 cups).
- When rice is fully cooked, remove from heat and stir in remaining Tbsp butter, parmesan cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper.
- Serve risotto in bowls and top with additional parmesan, lemon zest, and parsley.
- If you don't have any wine or prefer not to include it, you can skip right to the next step. The wine does add a nice burst of bright acidity to the dish, but there's also plenty of acidity from the lemon.